FOR the best part of two millennia, it’s been the heart of Havant. And now it’s bidding to secure its future in the 21st century. JEFF TRAVIS went to find out more.
ITS castle-like tower rises commandingly above Havant. On a sunny day, when the light bounces off its ancient stone walls, or a winter’s day when the roof and grounds are dusted in snow, it really is a photographer’s dream.
Nestled in the centre of Havant’s bustling streets is St Faith’s Church, a building that can trace its roots back to Roman times.
It’s believed Romans built a temple on the site, believing the natural spring water in the area was sacred, and ever since the site in whatever incarnation has been the heart of Havant.
In 2015, even on the busiest of days in the town centre, its historic, leafy grounds are a sanctuary of peace and quiet.
Many would agree it is one of the prettiest churches on the south coast.
It’s certainly stood the test of time through the centuries – but is now in need of a little love to last another few hundred years.
Its leaky roof is in desperate need of attention, so the church is launching a £500,000 bid to get it restored.
And the church’s well-used community buildings, the church hall and an 18th century coaching house, are being restored and modernised to meet the needs of the community.
There was a fear a few years ago that the community buildings would be sold off for housing, but that threat appears to have dissolved.
I meet Canon Tom Kennar, recently installed as rector of St Faith’s Church.
He says: ‘We feel very strongly that if the church is not serving the needs of its community, then it’s failing ultimately in what it’s all about.
‘We are here not just to worship God through music, choirs and all of that, but also through offering service to the community.
‘That’s why our big build campaign is not just about restoring this ancient building, but also looking after and restoring our community facilities.’
‘The roof is the main problem.
‘It’s essentially old age.
‘You have tiles up there that were hammered on 100 years ago with iron nails and are rusting.
‘Water penetrates and that in turn affects the plaster and the plaster starts to fall on people while they are worshipping.
‘So you have to strip off the tiles and put them back on with stainless steel.’
Fortunately, there are no buckets in sight – yet.
Rev Kennar, who was given honorary title of Canon after helping two cathedrals in Ghana, says: ‘We are in that strange netherworld of funding where it hasn’t become utterly desperate yet.
‘We haven’t had to shut the doors.
‘But we get close to it sometimes.
‘Ultimately if it’s not safe for people to enter you would have to lock it and close it.
‘That’s the ultimate fallback position.
‘It really does need doing and it needs vast amounts of money to do it.’
Lottery applications are currently being sent off in the hope of eating into that £500,000 target.
The congregation has raised £15,000, but it’s taken 10 years to accrue this amount, so Rev Kennar knows big grants will be needed to get the roofers in.
But the fight to ensure the building’s survival will be worth it, says Rev Kennar, as St Faith’s remains the heart of Havant, even in these increasingly secular times.
The church’s community buildings, in The Pallant, support a range of organisations, including before and after school clubs, armed forces charity SSAFA, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Dynamo Youth Theatre, Brownies, and Havant Orchestra.
The congregation on a Sunday is around 90 people, but there’s barely room to move every Christmas Eve as the townspeople converge for midnight mass.
‘It’s like a mini cathedral in the middle of Havant,’ says Rev Kennar.
‘It’s got this cruciform shape i.e built in the shape of a cross with these two big transepts which makes it such an iconic building for the community.
‘It’s the place people come for their weddings, baptisms, funerals and big civic events.
‘It feels like it’s the heart of the community.
‘It’s the spiritual heart of the community.
‘When people are going through crisis, they often look to this building.
‘You only have to leaf through the prayer book to see the kind of issues people bring here.
‘There’s prayers for mums and dads who are sick, there are remembrances of family members who have long since departed, and prayers for the world.
‘When the Tunisia tragedy happened, people felt they wanted to come in and write a prayer.
‘So it’s somewhere people can express what they are feeling.’
The depressing rumour in the town is that the building might have to close one day as it becomes so old that it is structurally unsafe.
But the church’s mission is to make sure St Faith’s flourishes and remains the jewel in the crown of Havant.
‘What would life be without St Faith’s Church?’ says Rev Kennar.
‘I haven’t been here yet at Christmas, but I’m told that on Christmas Eve we have to run two services back to back because we get over 800 people who come.
‘In August we are going to host the mayor and civic leaders for VJ Day.
‘Without St Faith’s, Havant would lose its historic heart.
‘It’s just here. People might not come in every day or come to church every Sunday, but it’s here.
‘We get 90 people to church on a Sunday morning, but we get hundreds who just wander in and sit and write in the prayer book.’
Havant Church is dedicated to St Faith, the girl martyr of Aquitaine.
The existing church dates back at least 900 years.
Of the original Saxon, or Norman, church nothing definitely remains, although it is probable that some of the stonework is older material re-used.
There is a possibility that some of the brick in the wall is Roman.
When the church was being repaired in 1832 it was found to be standing on part of a Roman foundation.
The chancel, the oldest undisturbed part of the building, was constructed in the early 13th century.
A Roman well, filled with jewellery and coins, was found near the graveyard by archaeologists two years ago.
The parish records covering the period of 1653 to 1851 record that some 6,000 departed souls were buried there and from this figure it has been estimated that the graveyard could contain the remains of more than 20,000 people.