Retired master carpenter Harry Barker moved to Forncett in 2009 and soon became involved in the restoration. His previous achievements included the Norwich Puppet Theatre constructed in a redundant church.
He made and donated the beautiful oak altar table and designed and made, with the help of Rod Evans, the communion rails. St Mary’s again had its rightful focal point. Holy Communion was celebrated on 15th August 2011, the church’s Patronal Festival when 40 people attended.
Later Harry Barker and Rod Evans were busy constructing the beautiful new lych-gate crafted in oak, stone and brick - providing a splendid entrance to the churchyard.
The Angel Awards are co-funded by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s foundation and sponsored by The Daily Telegraph. At the ceremony in the front row was 85-year-old Harry Barker, a master carpenter who played a key role in the restoration.
The Daily Telegraph reported: Harry was rehoused in Forncett St Mary in 2009, when his own home developed structural problems. "I'd had it with life'' he recalls. My wife had died of cancer. I'd smashed my ribs in an accident. My house was falling down and finally I'd had a stroke. I was ready to die.''
Then one of the team responsible for restoring St Mary's knocked on Harry’s door, having heard about his skills as a carpenter.
In his youth, Harry built an entire puppet theatre for the children of Norwich in another redundant church building. "I told him I was too old and that, after my stroke, there was nothing useful I could do any more, but he persuaded me to come along and see the church. I've been a churchgoer all my life. It was certainly a real mess".
St Mary's had been redundant since the 1980’s and had suffered at the hands of vandals. "I kept telling him I just wasn't capable of doing anything to help. My hands were working but my brain was shot. Then, I spotted a piece of architrave that had been put on wrong. ‘I'll sort that out for you,’ I said.''
And while Harry was doing that small job, he noticed some panels in an old oak door that needed replacing. "'I could probably manage that,' I thought, and after that... well, it saved my life.''
Soon Harry found himself at the heart of this ambitious project, building a new altar and altar rail in oak, laying and insulating the new chancel floor, the wooden side panels in the nave and - his most eye-catching triumph, the lychgate.
It was, he says, as if he came back to life along with the church. "The more I got involved, the better I felt” says Harry. "It gave me a reason to get up and get out of the house in the morning.” As an advertisement for the benefits of volunteering, it would be hard to better.