Part of the hard-working team from Midland Conservation Limited, pictured outside St Mary's Church, Melton, who will soon be working on Bladon Bridge at Blenheim Palace. They are, left to right: Chad Edwards, Scott Street, Phill Wright and Colin Lear.
we'll get there on time!
For the past eight months or so St Mary's Church in Melton Mowbray has gone through some massive changes.
When we held our last service in the church on New Year's Day I don't think anyone could have imaged what was to lie ahead with the Re-ordering Project.
It's been a time of uncertainty and doubt for a lot of the congregation and people in the town.
However, there's been no doubt in anyone's mind who is working in the building that the work will fall into place and that it will be completed by the deadline of November 24 this year.
When the workmen moved in in January I was privileged to be allowed in the church each week to take a pictorial record of what is happening and to report on the progress.
One of the first people I spoke to was Colin Lear, who has been overseeing the work of the stonemasons in St Mary's and has been second-in-command on the project, and his opinion has not changed from day one.
"We'll get there, we always do. Things will all come together at the last minute, " he said at the time.
I've been told that a number of people are concerned that the work won't be finished and that it is not on schedule, despite there being two lots of guided tours around the building so people can see the progress being made for themselves.
The way things were: The floor in the North Aisle at the beginning of the year.
The way things were: This is what the North Transept floor looked like in February this year.
I realise it is hard to tell from pictures just what has been done but I have seen at first hand the amount of hard work, effort and problem-solving that has gone into the building... from the shock of seeing a digger in the church for the first time to the beautiful new floors going in.
It's when you get to see the work so closely you realise just what an unpleasant task the workmen have had. To their credit they have gone about their work with a smile on their face and have been fantastic with the inquistive visitors who have popped their heads through the door to see what has been going on.
I remember early on in the project when I walked past an elderly lady and her friend were looking in.
"Don't worry, we're taking good care of the building. It'll look amazing when we've finished. I hope you'll be coming to the first service when it re-opens," said one cheery soul to her.
The lady gave a satisfied smile, nodded and was on her way. Her mind had been put at ease.
You clearly need a good sense of humour for this sort of job. It is often dirty and back-breaking work... I well remember seeing workers on their hands and knees laying the screed on the floor in church, and then cutting slabs and being covered in dust and debris, and thinking rather them than me.
Phill Wright and Colin Lear at work on the floor in St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray.
Above: Scott Street at work on the floor and below, left, Chad Edwards.
But it's not just a sense of humour. There's a real feel of professionalism in the church. Everyone is doing their very best to make our church look even more amazing than it did before. And that goes for everyone, from the site foreman, the stonemasons, carpenters, electricians, those cleaning the walls and ceilings and anyone else who is brought in to do their bit. It all looks amazing.
The work has not been easy, as Colin Lear explained to me when we spoke recently.
"When we first started to take the floor up no-one could have envisaged that there would be great voids underneath it, and lead coffins and holes, and we also didn't realise how thick some of the ledger stones would be. So that was a challenge.
"It has been a problem putting them back in because of the sheer scale of them, their weight and size, and obviously things have changed to make good the ledgers. We've had to move the ledgers around because of new electrical boxes and conduit pipes which have been put in and they wouldn't fit back in. And, because we've incorporated blue limestone in-between the columns, ledgers that were there orginally have had to be moved or replaced."
Colin admitted that the work on St Mary's was one of the hardest jobs he has worked on.
It's a tough job but someone had to put the screed down in St Mary's Church earlier in the year.
"The main time consuming problem has been the size of the ledgers and the build-up of screed we've had to use to get the floor back up to formation. Tons and tons of screed have gone in there.
"Every job we do throws up a challenge similar to this. When I first stepped in the church I thought it would be simple. I spent two or three months to start with doing a survey of the floor, numbering every stone and taking sizes. I could have told you where everything went back perfectly to the millimetre but then, as we started to progress, everything changed because I don't think anyone envisaged the problems we've had. The floor boxes have gone in and all of a sudden that ledger can't go back there.
"We've also had to form a deeper channel up the side of the South and North Naves to accommodate the thicker ledgers. If we could have put them back as we'd taken them out it would have been a lot easier and a lot quicker.
"The concept of the job changed when we were told we had to make good and cut down all the existing flagstones because then you're shrinking everything, making everything smaller. We were told the stones that were ok had to go back in but they couldn't go in without being trimmed and to have the edges on them removed which is a specialist job," said Colin, who has been a stonemason for the past 26 years.
When the ledger stones were orginally laid, if one of the stones was thicker than another they just dug out the floor more to make it fit and they were just sitting on a bed of soil.
"I enjoy my job because you do something different every day. It's a new challenge every day," added Colin, who is 43 this year and who served a three year stonemasonry apprenticeship at Bath College in Somerset after leaving school.
In four or five weeks' time Colin, who lives in Lichfield, will have another challenge on his hands. He has just been told that he will be site foreman on a two-phase £500,000 restoration contract on Chambers ‘New Bridge’ also known as ‘Bladon Bridge’ designed by Sir William Chambers in 1772, over the River Glyme on the Blenheim Palace Estate.
‘Bladon Bridge’ over the River Glyme on the Blenheim Palace Estate, where Colin will be working next.
Once the floor in St Mary's Church, Melton, is complete he will be joined at Blenheim by his brother Phill Wright and Scott Street, who are also stonemasons and who have been working on the church since Midland Conservation Limited moved in in January, and Chad Edwards.
"I will be sorry not to see St Mary's finished. It's annoying but it's what always seems to happen... you start something then we get moved. I will return to have a look round when it's finished," Colin added.
And what of his next job challenge?
"It's what we do, it's a big responsibility to get it right. We work for stately homes, the National Trust, churches, so we have to get things right," said Colin, who worked as site foreman for three years on a £3.6m project on the Grand Hotel in Birmingham.
"We took the top third of the building down and the roof and replaced it with new stone and made good the other two thirds. It looks really impressive.
"We're lucky with St Mary's Church because we've got the run of the place but normally we have to work when buildings are still open. If you are working in a church you stop when there are funerals, services or quiet times and have your breaks to fit in. I remember working on the White Tower in the Tower of London. You had to work for an hour then stop for an hour because a Beefeater would be showing people round on a tour, and then you'd work another hour then stop for another hour. It was like that all day!"
Colin has also worked on, amongst other things, Lichfield Cathedral, Kedlestone Hall, Derby and the British Museum.
Colin Lear lays part of the floor in St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray.
Colin and his brother Phill were among the first people to join Midland Conservation Limited when it was started nearly 10 years ago by Jason Graham and Andy Cornwell.
Since then the firm has gone from strength to strength and they are waiting anxiously to hear if they will win in this year's grand final of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' awards to be announced at the Intercontinental Hotel in London on November 2nd.
They reached the final by winning two categories in the West Midlands section of the awards in May this year. They won the conservation category for work on Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, which is the burial site of William Shakespeare, and the commercial category for the £3.6m restoration project on The Grand Hotel, Shops & Offices in Birmingham.
"It would be the icing on the cake if we won at these awards as Midland Conservation celebrates its ten year anniversary on October 3rd this year," said managing director Jason Graham.
And his thoughts on the work so far in St Mary's Church?
"St Mary's has not been without its problems but it is coming along nicely and it will look fantastic when we have finished."
Will it be finished on time?
"Yes, it will have to be. No doubt about it."
And does Colin share that optimism?
"It's going to be tight but we will get there. On a job like this it will all come together all of a sudden, but there's no doubt in my mind we will do it."
You sense that it's not just about hitting a deadline, there's a sense of pride in doing a fantastic job to the best of everyone's ability.
I believed Colin when he told me confidently back in January that they would get the job finished on time, and I believe him now.
To all the doubting Thomas' I can't wait to say "they told you so" when the deadline day arrives!