HLF funded Willis Pipe Organ Restoration & Reach-out project successfully completed

Anna Page, Dave King and Lesley Salter with the plaque on the organ about the project

Anna Page, Dave King and Lesley Salter with the plaque on the organ about the project

Music for All @ SMSG is pleased to announce that the three-year Heritage Lottery Funded Willis Pipe Organ Restoration and Reach-out project has been completed and signed off by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The organ has been restored and is sounding great.

The Willis Pipe Organ Restoration & Reach-Out project had two equally important aims: to restore a fine piece of Victorian heritage; and to reach out to volunteers to run ongoing programmes of educational visits and musical events with the restored organ at their core, for young people and the local community.

Plaque on the organ about the project

Plaque on the organ about the project

Put simply, it has been a great success. Entirely run by volunteers, the project has delivered all six of its HLF-approved purposes, making a significant difference both to heritage and to people:

  • We have restored the organ and enabled 425 people to see the work in progress
  • We have researched its history and made its story available via our website, photo books, banners, flyers and frequently asked questions sheets for volunteers.
  • We have created a 25 minute DVD and learning resources for schools (also available freely online).
  • We have introduced 490 school children and accompanying adults to the organ via our Visits programme and a players programme is allowing a growing list of new and existing organists to play the instrument every week.
  • We have built a community music programme to extend knowledge and appreciation of the organ and its history via 26 events using the organ in the first 11 months since restoration, with over 3,000 participants, plus 26 other music events giving total participation in music for all @ SMSG events of 4,700 with very positive feedback.
  • We have trained an increasing number of volunteers in 15 defined roles to support Education and Community Music activities, with very positive feedback and willingness to continue.

We are very grateful to the Heritage Lottery fund for all their support and encouragement.  Commenting on the successful completion of the project, Fr Ross Northing said “The Rector, Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council are very grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the huge number of volunteer fundraisers and the countless people who have supported fundraising events to ensure that our Willis Pipe Organ is not only fully refurbished but also brought up to its full specification. Thanks to all their efforts this is now the premier Church Pipe Organ in this area, and we look forward to its enhancement of Christian Worship, its greater use in teaching potential organists, and in promoting music more generally for many years to come.”

In March 2014 the Heritage Lottery Fund gave a grant of £82,700 to the PCC of the Parish of Stony Stratford with Calverton to support the project which not only enabled the restoration of the Willis Pipe Organ but also meant that a programme of historical research, education, music making, out-reach and volunteer training could be realised.

The project, which was entirely local community-volunteer led, focussed on restoring the 3-manual Father Willis Pipe Organ as well as researching and interpreting its history.  It also involved producing audio visual, print and online learning resources to enable exploration of the organ and its history, creating and delivering an Education and Activities programme, recruiting and training more volunteer organ guides and delivering a Community Music Programme using the organ.

As a result of the HLF grant the project team was able to commission the work on the organ, for which it had been fundraising since 2006 and fund the education and outreach activities. The organ was restored from 2014 to 2015, brought back into use with many concerts in 2015-2016 in time to be used in January 2017 for the Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations.

This Willis Pipe organ was originally built by 'Father' Willis in 1882, one of the most famous Victorian organ-builders, and remains a shining example of the excellence of his work. It was enlarged and enhanced by his son and again by his grandson Henry Willis III in 1932.  It was moved from its original location in St George’s Church, Charlotte Square in Edinburgh to Stony Stratford by Starmer Shaw Organ builders in 1967.  Henry Willis III used modern technology to expand the instruments built by his grandfather, yet retained their tonal character, for modern musical and liturgical purposes without destroying their original sound. The instrument at Stony Stratford is a fine example of the Willis dynasty of organ building.  Now the organ has been restored by FH Browne & Sons Ltd, Stony Stratford is one of only a very few parishes in the country to have a fully functioning Willis III church organ.

Although the Heritage Lottery funded project is now complete, Music for All @ SMSG has an extensive programme of forthcoming musical events at St Mary and St Giles church for everyone to enjoy, involving performers of all ages.  Highlights include:

  • The Open University Choir ‘Spem in Alium’ (Thomas Tallis) concert on 17 June, as part of #MK50 celebrations (with Quorum, Polymnia and Linsdale Singers).
  • The 3 day Pipe Organ Festival from 8 – 10 September as part of Heritage Open Days, which includes a Silent Movie with pipe organ, a musical Teddy Bears’ Picnic, Hands on Our Willis!, a Gala Organ Concert, a Heritage exhibition, a lunchtime recital and a requests recital.
  • Come & Sing with the Pipe Organ Day on 11 November when 150 people will learn and perform Haydn’s Nelson Mass.

For further details see www.musicforallsmsg.org/whats-on

Organists are always welcome to use the organ by arrangement for practice and learning – for details of how you can book to play the organ please see http://www.musicforallsmsg.org/learning/just-play/

Music for All @ SMSG Team

Press release: End of project SMSG organ Stony Stratford press release May17