FIRST FOR TOWN: Jonny Duffield is delighted with the transformation
FIRST FOR TOWN: Jonny Duffield is delighted with the transformation

MORE than 400 volunteers have helped transform a former Victorian Sunday school room into a permanent home for Barnard Castle’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For the past four months, volunteers from all over the UK have been lending a hand to create a bright, light meeting place for the 34-strong congregation.

The building, which was originally built in 1836 as the Sunday School for the Congregational Church, had been empty for the past three years.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have worked in all weathers gutting the interior and exterior, digging up floors, removing a concrete flat roof and taking out a redundant boiler before any repair work could be carried out. Congregation member Jonny Duffield said: “The work is coming to an end now and we are extremely excited.”

The work, which was funded entirely by voluntary contributions, involved blocking up doorways and putting in new windows, electrics, plumbing and heating. Internally the building was taken back to a shell and using a metal framework system, it has allowed walls to be straightened and insulation installed. A pitched roof has been added.

Mr Duffield added: “As the building is in a conservation area we had to put proper grey slates on so we have used reclaimed ones and at one point we had a team of volunteers with buckets carefully scrubbing each and every one of them. When they were finished the brushes had almost no bristles left.

“It has been a wonderful experience bringing people together and it’s not just been people with trades skills who have given their time to help out. We’ve had lots of people making sure the site has been secure, making teas and coffees. Members of the congregation have also provided places for others to stay while they helped out with the work. The furthest we know someone has travelled is from Bournemouth but we’ve had brothers and sisters from all over the country help where they can.”

The interior of the building has been divided to form a large meeting room complete with the latest audio-visual technology. There is also a classroom, entrance foyer, toilets as well as a cloakroom and small kitchen.

It is the congregation’s first permanent home in Barnard Castle.They had purchased another building more than 20 years ago but it was deemed too costly to renovate. Since then they have been meeting at Marwood Social Centre.

Mr Duffield said: “We are overjoyed to have our hall in the middle of Barnard Castle and to see how much everyone has come together.”

The congregation held its first meeting in their premises on Sunday evening and have organised an open day for people in Teesdale.

The open day on Saturday, September 14, is open to everyone between 10am and 4pm.

There will be display boards to illustrate the work that has been carried out and information on the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation.

Mr Duffield added: “Everyone is welcome to come along and have a look at the building and what has been done Our meetings on Sunday are also open to the public and we welcome everyone to come along.”