There is some good news for Furness Abbey as identified in the above article. Work is continuing to repair and support the structure and it is necessary to save the integrity of the abbey. English Heritage have done a magnificent job over the last few years and must have spent bucket loads of cash to do so. They often come under a lot of criticism for various reasons-some possibly justified, but their efforts to preserve Furness Abbey have been amazing and entirely necessary and do them credit.
Our poor old abbey has looked increasingly dilapidated and shabby over recent years and it has not been helped with the mess made by flooding. Hopefully, with the ongoing conservation work it will improve and return to its beautiful self.
So why is it important to secure the future of the abbey and what problems face it in the future?
Its important because it is one of the most significant abbeys in the UK. It was the second largest and richest abbey after Fountains Abbey. It was extremely powerful and influential politically in its day and made its mark on how Furness grew and developed. It was additionally the first of the large abbeys to be targeted by Henry V111 for Dissolution-he saw its financial potential and lost no time in liquidising the assets; from the lead on the roof to the furnishings and plate and of course selling off the huge tracts of land belonging to Furness Abbey.
Aesthetically, it is breathtakingly beautiful, spiritual and inspirational. It was written about by Wordsworth and painted by Turner-what more of an accolade could it have?
There is a school of thought that supports the gradual decline and decay of such buildings-returning it to the natural state. There are some people who believe it to be a waste of resources and time conserving such a building. However, locally, it is very important to the people of Barrow. Everyone you speak to has a story about their connection with the abbey and judging by the numbers of people who take the Green Way path up in to the valley where the abbey sits, it is still a popular place to walk to.
However, fixing the infrastructure is not enough! Why? Visitor numbers have fallen dramatically over the years and in comparison to other local attractions it does not seem to have held its "kerb appeal". Except...it does...the biggest problem is that visitors remain outside of the fence, because as anyone who knows the abbey will tell you-you don't need to go inside to view it. Dozens of amateur...and not so amateur photographers hang over the fence at weekends when weather permits and snap happily away. So what's the problem? Well-if you're outside, you're not paying to get in. If you're not going in no visitor number is recorded. If you aren't going in, you aren't paying. Add to this residents of Barrow who can apply for a yellow exemption card to get in free-then again-no payments. All of which means that EH are losing essential revenue to help to restore the site. Again calculate the massive revenue cut back they have suffered and you don't have to be a mathematician to see that they need help!
This is where we come in. Furness Abbey Fellowship were established to support the abbey and reverse the decline by promotion, events and improving the visitor experience. We are on the job and have a few events planned already-but we need the public's help. If everyone who reads this joined FAF, donated £1, bought a quiz, came to the Easter event at Abbey Mill, we would be on our way to improving things.
We have also launched a new large appeal to help to fund a special and secure display unit for the abbot's treasure when it returns. We initially want to raise £6,000 but are hoping to raise enough for the whole gallery and the security which is needed to protect the artefacts. This in itself will attract visitors from far and wide-just as it did in the weekend last year when it was temporarily displayed. Numbers for that weekend were an amazing 1,500.
We are planning events and activities and want to add to the resources in the abbey to make it a pleasant and more stimulating visit. We want to buy golf umbrellas-because most of the site is outside. We aim to produce interpretation boards to show people more clearly what they are looking at. We hope to integrate activities like a Herb Trail so visitors can interact with the site. The list goes on to be honest and this is a long term task, without a quick fix. We can only do this with funding, donations and support from the public!
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