From William The Conqueror, via Henry VIII, to a new community hall in Bedford

A £750,000 appeal has been launched to build a community hall next to Elstow Abbey.

Organisers hope to build the facility from the ruins of Hillersden Hall

And organisers hope to create an exciting future from a ite which already has a storied past.

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Priest in charge Father Paul Messam said: “We will have large L-shaped marquee covering the site of what will be the restored hall and inside there we will have an exhibition of history of the site and a pop-up cafe in the church - as well as the hugely popular tea garden next door,

“There will be a JustGiving page and fund-raising leading up to building work actually starting in autumn 2020.

“In addition we will be seeking grants and hoping that the local community will get behind this appeal for what will be a valuable community asset. Already we are working with The Bedford College Group and the charity Groundwork Luton & Bedfordshire to involve people in activities in and around the location.”

Over £230,000 has already been donated to the appeal and spent on the renovations of the scheduled monument ruins in preparation for the new build. The rest is being raised as the hall is built, to the exacting standards of English Heritage.

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The site’s history can be traced back to Countess Judith of Lens, niece of William the Conqueror, who founded Elstow Abbey in around 1078., as well as churches in Kempston and Hitchin.

Hillersden Hall was built in approximately 1620 in what was left of the 14th century cloisters of the abbey which were destroyed in the Reformation when King Henry VIII took over many wealthy Catholic places of worship for what we now know as the Church of England.

Father Paul added: “This is a site which dates back over 1,000 years, which means that work will be expensive, but this is really history in the making.

“Churches have to move with times to raise funds and to welcome people not just on Sundays but seven days a week. We need help with funding in the same way that benefactors throughout the centuries have supported their local church.”

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