For almost 300 years parishioners have simply climbed a ladder to light the 24 candles that sit in a chandelier in Wymondham Abbey. But like many things now deemed to be a health and safety hazard, that tradition has come to an end - at a cost of £6000 (US$10800). Instead of wobbling on top of a ladder several feet above the ground, technology has taken over, with a pulley system and electric motor installed so the striking brass chandelier can be lowered for maintenance and lighting. This Easter weekend the public will see it lit for the first time in two years after work on the project was finally completed, see photo above.
Churchwarden, Bruce Wilson, said there was no record of anybody being hurt in the past, but they had to comply with a risk assessment carried out. "We either had to stop using it or comply with the regulations, so we have to have this motor costing £6000. "If you look from the church's point of view, £6000 can be so much better spent, it's a considerable sum." But Mr Wilson also said that with an ageing congregation there were fewer people who could "shin up a ladder", adding: "Most of us are fairly infirm and doddery!"
The chandelier was given to the abbey in 1712 by parishioner Elizabeth Hendry. It was once the main source of light in the historic Grade I-listed building, before being moved to the Lady Chapel in 1903 at the time of the great restoration. "It's a huge chandelier and very heavy. It had to be lit whenever they had a service in the evening, during the hours when it was dark," said Mr Wilson. "It would have meant someone going up ladders to replace and light the candles. It's very important from our point of view, it's a really beautiful piece."
The cost of the work is being met by the church's Friends group and Abbey Preservation Trust. (Picture of Abbey to left.) The story is reminiscent of the situation faced by a church in Beccles last year, which was left with a £1300 bill to replace a handful of bulbs costing 84p each, because of new health and safety laws. In recent years the chandelier at Wymondham has only been lit from Maundy Thursday or Good Friday to Easter Sunday. But when parishioner Paul Wood was made the abbey's health and safety advisor two years ago, his first job was to explain that it was too dangerous for people to climb ladders to do this.
"My take on it was with health and safety we had no choice but to do something. It's not only the cost, it's the human cost as well," said Mr Wood. "The people who do the cleaning in the abbey are all volunteers and the people who used to take it apart were volunteers. If one of them falls you have the cost to the individual, the family and the financial cost. "This means it can be cleaned by a group of people and it doesn't matter who they are and it can be lit by anybody, rather than someone who's able bodied." Mr Wood said it had been a long process to get the equipment installed as they had to get permission from the diocese and English Heritage, then find the right contractor to do the work.
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