Essex church volunteers receive Ecclesiastical’s Digital Heritage Hero Award

Two volunteers who spearheaded a campaign to repair a historic church after an illegal rave have been recognised for their exceptional service to the UK’s heritage sector.

The Digital Heritage Hero Award, one of three Ecclesiastical Heritage Hero Awards*, celebrates Astrid Gillespie and Paul Hamilton’s fundraising efforts in response to an illegal rave at All Saints’ church in in East Horndon, near Brentwood, Essex, that resulted in significant damage. By speaking to news outlets and advertising a Just Giving page via Facebook, Astrid and Paul raised sufficient funds to carry out repairs and address additional conservation works.

Sponsored by specialist heritage insurer Ecclesiastical, the Heritage Heroes Awards, now in their 11th year, are the Heritage Alliance’s celebration of the outstanding contribution Britain’s heritage volunteers make to society.

Volunteers play a vital role in protecting the UK’s heritage. From caring for rural heritage sites and checking in on empty heritage buildings during lockdown to devising new ways of working remotely, volunteers’ skills, passion, and commitment have proven to be more crucial than ever before.

Peter Ainsworth, Chair of the Heritage Alliance, and Faith Kitchen, Heritage Director at Ecclesiastical, presented the awards. Each of the winners received an original hand painted sign by Joby Carter, from Carters Steam Fair, showcasing the artistry and history of traditional fairground decorations.

The virtual awards ceremony coincided with Heritage Day**, the key event in the heritage sector calendar with speakers including Sir Laurie Magnus, Chair of Historic England, and the Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage MP. 

Faith Kitchen said:

“As the leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings in the UK, we’re passionate about Britain’s heritage. We’re proud to sponsor the Heritage Heroes Awards, and this year celebrates some incredibly deserving winners for their outstanding contribution to the heritage sector during such an incredibly challenging year. Congratulations to Astrid and Paul for their efforts in leading the digital campaign to repair All Saints’ Church.”

Peter Ainsworth added:

“It’s been a very difficult year and we’ve needed heroes more than ever. These people and organisations have risen to the challenge – many others too. Litter picking, dealing with an illegal rave, providing essential advice on PPE and cleansing – these are not glamorous activities; but they matter very much and we are proud to recognise them.”

Astrid Gillespie from The Friends of All Saints’ Church said:

“It means so much to all of us from The Friends of All Saints’ to have been given this award and to have the support of The Heritage Alliance. We have been overwhelmed with the love and support from everyone who has been involved in helping us to raise money for us to repair the damage at the church.”

Peter Aiers, Chief Executive at The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “Astrid and Paul are true Heritage Heroes. The Friends of All Saints’ Church have always done a great job in bringing the local community together to support this isolated church building, however, what they achieved in the aftermath of an illegal rave on New Year’s Eve was exceptional. Their work released the love and affection people have for church buildings. We are eternally grateful for the positive impact that their work has had for the church and the local community.”

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