Every place of worship has a unique story to tell. The building itself is a witness to the history of the area. And every member of the church is woven into its rich tapestry, enabling the building to serve its local community. Whitehead Methodist Church is no different. But the discovery of dry rot almost forced this thriving church to close.
Whitehead through the ages
You will find the picturesque village of Whitehead on the Causeway Coastal Route of County Antrim, in Northern Ireland.
The once-tiny seaside village flourished with the opening of the railway station in 1863, leading to it becoming a popular holiday destination. As the population began to grow, new churches were needed.
In 1899, Whitehead Methodist Church was built. Architect Herbert Sykes provided the designs in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ style, which was popular at the time. Features of the original church remain today, notably the timber window tracery and plasterwork. As a result, Whitehead Methodist Church is B1 listed.
Becoming the heart of the community
A section of the church land once featured a tennis court, where local tournaments were held. Now, it acts as a garden, hosting brilliant church and community events. In 2013, plans were approved for a new extension to the church, so that the church could serve even more people.
The congregation leapt up to help the church in its fundraising efforts. From concerts to soup lunches, bric a brac and scrap gold and silver sales, everyone from the church was getting involved to help raise money for the extension. Eight of the church’s volunteers even did a sponsored abseil down the front of the Europa Hotel!
“Whitehead Methodist Church has always been heavily involved in the life of the local community,” says John Barnett, the church’s property steward.
“Members of the church organise an annual Christmas Day lunch for those who otherwise might have spent the day alone. Our church buildings and grounds are popular for events, such as the Whitehead festival in July and the Victorian Street Fayre at the end of November.
"With the help of [a grant from] the National Churches Trust and the generosity of our members, we were able to open our new extension in 2016, free of debt.”
However, in 2021, this all nearly had to stop when dry rot was discovered in the building.
Dry rot disaster
“Just as we were about to move our Sunday services back into the church [after the Covid-19 pandemic], an area of dry rot was discovered in the south-facing gable,” shares John.
“An accredited conservation architect carried out a detailed survey showing that the dry rot was very extensive. Internal and external plaster work, winds cutting, roof timbers and the timber frames of the four stained glass windows were badly affected.”
Dry rot is a wood-decaying fungus, usually caused by damp and a lack of ventilation. As the fungus feeds on the wood, it weakens it. If it is left untreated, it can lead to the building collapsing.
With the building now unsafe, the race was on for the church to find the money needed to treat the dry rot.
Help is on hand
We were able to award the church a £20,000 grant from the Historic Environment Division at Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities to treat the dry rot and protect the future of this special church.
“We were grateful for the assistance of the National Churches Trust grant of £20,000 towards this [the dry rot],” says John.
“Through our grants scheme, we are able to help churches tackle a wide range of problems,” shares Nina McNeary, our Church Support Officer for Northern Ireland.
“This includes dry rot or water damage and putting in new facilities, such as kitchens and toilets, to make the church building accessible. We also encourage places of worship to share their incredible heritage with others.
“As the National Churches Trust, we are committed to supporting places of worship – like Whitehead Methodist Church – helping them to remain open and thriving.”