Bury St Edmunds’ abbey ruins at award-winning Abbey Gardens could benefit from National Heritage Lottery funding
A multi-million-pound Lottery bid is being prepared to protect the abbey ruins in Bury St Edmunds from further erosion and enhance the visitor experience.
West Suffolk Council’s Cabinet last night agreed to work with St Edmundsbury Cathedral and English Heritage on the National Heritage Lottery funding bid to do more to safeguard the ruins, some of which are in desperate need of work and have had to be fenced off for safety reasons.
The money would also be used to greatly improve the surrounding paths, some of which are not currently fully accessible for people with disabilities.
And if successful, the funding bid would also see improvements to the information at the former Abbey of St Edmund – which was built over 1000 years ago in honour of the martyred former patron saint of England – for people to get a better understanding of the site.
West Suffolk Council agreed to jointly work with the cathedral and English Heritage on a stage one development/feasibility application to the National Heritage Lottery.
The council will also set aside £250,000 of developer contributions, already earmarked for work in the Abbey Gardens, towards the improvements.
Cllr Ian Shipp, cabinet member for leisure and culture at West Suffolk Council, said: “This is a hugely popular site with both town residents and tourists alike and the Abbey Gardens, which is just part of the overall site, is consistently named as one of the top 10 free visitor attractions by Visit England each year, ranking alongside the Natural History Museum and Brighton Pier.
“We have around 1.3 million visits a year to our Green Flag award winning Abbey Gardens – some of these are people benefitting their health and wellbeing with a walk to and from work or enjoying a lunch break amid our spectacular floral displays and biodiversity. And some of these are tourists attracted by our town’s history and heritage amongst other things.
“Within the site’s fascinating history, we have everything from the Abbey itself, founded just over 1000 years ago in honour of St Edmund, becoming one of the most important sites of international pilgrimage for hundreds of years.
“We have our town’s part in the very foundation of international freedom and human rights, the Magna Carta, commemorated in stone amongst the ruins. And we have the burial place of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and third wife of King Louis XII of France at St Mary’s Church within the site.
“Together with St Edmundsbury Cathedral and English Heritage, we want to do more to protect the ruins, some of which are in desperate need of work and have had to be fenced off for safety reasons.
“We also want to improve the paths so they are more accessible, making it easier for people to enjoy the Abbey Gardens and the wider former abbey area.
“And we want to improve on the interpretation work that has already taken place so more people, whether local residents or visitors get a better understanding of the site, what it once was and a sense of the international and national importance to people at the time.”
Joe Hawes, Dean of St Edmundsbury and chair of the Project Working Group, said: “The cathedral is delighted to be working with all the partner organisations who share our passion for the Abbey of St Edmund site.
“The heritage and stories of the abbey are a sleeping giant just waiting to be awoken for the benefit of our community and so many visitors.
“A successful project will enhance the wellbeing and lives of us all, as well as attract people from around the country and overseas to engage with the wonderful history of this place. Heritage, environment and community are crucial issues for us to work on together.”
The Abbey of St Edmund Heritage Partnership which was set up in 2016 is led by St Edmundsbury Cathedral and West Suffolk Council in collaboration with nearly 20 other public, private, and voluntary organisations.
The development of the bid by the lead partners is being supported by the wider partnership group.