From the Diocese of Durham
Parishioners and dignitaries at a Wearside church today (Jan 22) gathered to celebrate the award of an accolade from Visit England.
A coveted Red Rose in the Places of Interest Quality Assurance scheme has gone to St Michael & All Angels Church, the Anglican parish church in Houghton le Spring in the Diocese of Durham.
The award recognises the quality of the visitor experience, including the information on offer, the amount of time people stay and the accessibility of the building. It also recognises the work of a team of at least 30 volunteers who give guided tours and welcome people to the church.
The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, said: “This is a wonderful recognition for the volunteers who come here faithfully week in and week in out to welcome the people who come to this very significant part of our North East Christian heritage.
“What the award is saying is that the quality of the welcome and the quality of the experience that people will have when they come is equivalent to some of our finest and most important tourist attractions.”
Sunderland Mayor Councillor Iain Kay said: “I think it’s quite a tremendous story. It is a badge of honour for Sunderland that a church like this has received such a prestigious award.”
Volunteer Jean Henderson, who formerly received the award from the Bishop on behalf of the church, said: “It was a great honour to receive this award.“
Until recently, it was thought that the history of worship on the site was restricted to Christianity in the existing grade one listed building, parts of which date back to the 12th Century.
However, a series of remarkable discoveries during work to the church in 2008 suggested that the site could have witnessed worship as far back as Neolithic times 4000 years ago.
The work, known as reordering and designed to make the church more accessible and more suited to the needs of congregations in the 21st century, threw up discovery after discovery, which are now celebrated in a heritage centre in the building