New Year’s for North Norfolk church champion

Margaret Hunter, who helped breathe new life into her dying village church, has been made an MBE in the new year's honours list.

Mrs Hunter, 66, has been a leading light in the 13-year transformation of St Margaret's Church, at Thorpe Market, near Cromer, into a community honeypot, hosting a wide range of cultural events and services.

The church re-opened at Easter after 10 months' closure and �165,000 worth of restoration work; the last in a long line of initiatives totalling over �250,000 which have left the Grade II-star listed church almost in its original 1796 'immaculate' condition.

'It must be one of very few churches which doesn't have any repair bills attached. Nothing needs doing,' said Mrs Hunter.

Its many new users include non-worshipping villagers who visit the church for attractions including concerts, drama, exhibitions, talks, and wildflower walks.

'They think of it as their church and nurture it. They've developed a soft spot for it,' she added.

Mrs Hunter said she was 'absolutely staggered' when she learned of her honour and had accepted it on behalf of those who had shared her vision of the church's future when its falling congregation in a village of some 100 households had put it in grave danger of closure.

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She believes a succession of awards in the late 1990s for St Margaret's wildflower-filled churchyard first sparked its renaissance, drawing visitors and putting the church on the tourist map. Its Snowdrop Sundays remain a popular annual draw.

Mrs Hunter was at the heart of a millennium project which saw a church kitchen and toilet built to help cater for events. A car park has since been added to its amenities.

She also established two flourishing community musical groups: the Cantamus Community Choir and Village Folk, which both regard the church as their home.

Mrs Hunter, whose husband Richard died three years ago, has now retired from her role at the forefront of promoting church activities and plans to spend more time with her son, daughter and two grandchildren.

She said: 'It's really up to the next generation to take the church forward. It's a marvellous place, in marvellous shape, where marvellous things happen - and I've made some lovely friends there.'