Art4Action-2

An art auction to raise funds for the ‘Routes to Roots’ charity and the St Martin’s Church Fabric Fund

This is the story of how these seemingly different causes came together in our Christmas 2020 Art4Action auction...

The St Martin Church Fabric Fund

The people of Wareham are justly proud of their little church on the walls. The Church of St Martin has stood on the north walls of Wareham for a thousand years. Legends claim that there was an even earlier place of worship on the site built by St Aldhelm in the 7th century, but later destroyed by the marauding Vikings and then rebuilt by King Cnut in 1020, now popularly known as its foundation date. The present church shows many indications of that Anglo-Saxon construction combined with the subsequent Norman building.

So, for well over a thousand years the site has witnessed much of the turmoil and history of Britain: the Anglo-Saxon invasion, the conversion to Christianity, Viking raids and then the Norman conquest.

Therefore, given that 2020 is the Millennium anniversary of St Martin’s we felt that something should be done to mark this important milestone in the town’s history. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it wasn’t possible to go ahead with the celebration that had been planned to take place in the church, so after seeing a sign on the church giving its foundation date as 1020, Malcolm Lewis suggested having a commemorative plaque put somewhere in the church.

The original plan was to raise enough money for the plaque from the first Art4Action auction, as well as for a Coronavirus charity, but that proved too complicated to do at the same time. So after the auction, Richard Brown, who is one of the Trustees of Purbeck Art Weeks, the association that had helped in organising the artists for the first auction, asked if we would consider using a well known local sculptor called Jonathan Sells to make the plaque. Richard generously offered to pay something towards the cost of the plaque through PAW.

After various meetings with members of the Wareham’s Church of England Family including Canon Simon Everett, and Church Wardens Diane Beaumont and Hilary Goodinge, plans were submitted to the Parochial Parish Council (PPC) of Wareham who agreed to pass on their recommendation to the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) that advises on such matters. The Archdeacon of Dorset, the Venerable Antony MacRow-Wood, has since expressed an opinion that he doesn’t think our application would be ‘controversial’, so we are quite hopeful for the final approval to go ahead in the New Year.

So, in order to raise enough to pay for the balance of monies needed to make the plaque, Malcolm suggested doing another Art4Action auction. However, both he and the local Church Wardens had other priorities as well. The Wardens wanted to have some of the funds go towards the St Martin’s Church Fabric Fund (for the upkeep and proposed heating of the building), and Malcolm wanted half of the money raised to go towards a homeless charity. This was readily agreed by all sides. Out of the final Hammer Price of the artwork, 66% would go to the artist that made the piece, 17% would be shared out by the PPC to pay for the plaque and for something towards the Fabric Fund, and 17% towards a homeless charity.

So, why also give to a homeless charity? Back to the history of St Martin’s…

Above and below: The Saxon church of St Martin on the Walls, Wareham.

The Legend of the Beggar and the Great Fire of Wareham​

St Martin would have been very important to the people of Wareham from Saxon times right up until the late Middle Ages, as he was across Europe. So it’s not surprising that our earliest church was dedicated to him.

As everybody would have known back then, (and as they still do in much of Catholic Europe), St Martin was a Roman soldier born in Hungary in about AD 316. He became a bishop in the French town of Tours, which is why he is often referred to as Martin of Tours. Some of Wareham’s wealthier folk who could afford the trip, might have even stopped off at his shrine there, which was an important part of the pilgrimage to Compostela de Santiago in Spain.

What St Martin had become most revered for, was the legend that one day during a snowstorm, as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. To save him from the cold, Martin impulsively cut his cloak in half to share with the man. That night he dreamt of Jesus wearing the half-cloak and saying to the angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is now baptised, he has clothed me”.

St Martin’s Church and the homeless of Wareham

In 1762 the Great Fire swept across Wareham and some two thirds of the town (133 dwellings and other buildings) were destroyed. Fortunately no residents were hurt, but many people lost all their possessions. The scale of the disaster for the town wasn’t so dissimilar to what had befallen London a century earlier in its Great Fire (pictured right).

While St Martin’s church had fallen into disuse by this point, in fact its finest day came when it was converted for use to house the homeless people of Wareham. A feat which was somehow accomplished for two years!

So, when it came to choosing a local charity to support for this Christmas auction, we had in mind both the story of St Martin and the beggar as well as the act of St Martin’s church being used as a shelter for the homeless. It had to be one that deals with homelessness. Diane and Hilary then came up with a suggestion, a very important local charity by the name of ‘Routes to Roots’…

Painting on the north wall of the chancel in St Martin’s church dating from the 12th century illustrating the story of St Martin and the beggar. In the centre there is a very faint image of St Martin with a lance riding a horse, in the act of cutting the cloak in half.

Routes to Roots

The Patron of Routes to Roots is the Right Reverend Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherbourne. Its objectives are to support rough sleepers, the vulnerably housed (sofa surfers or in B&Bs) and the newly housed (formerly homeless) adults in Poole, Dorset. They say that:

“We know that rough sleepers are just a part of the homeless problem. There are as many hidden homeless, who have nowhere permanent to live but who sofa surf between friends and family. And, a similar number are vulnerably housed and need on-going help and support to maintain their accommodation and not recycle back into homelessness because they are unable to cope alone with paying their rent and bills, making benefits claims and job applications or are still struggling with alcohol, drug or gambling addictions.”

At five drop-ins (three lunchtime and two evening) they provide basic necessities, such as showers, hot food, clothing and sleeping bags, and offer outreach access to the Poole addictions team, mental health workers, Poole rough sleeper outreach team and housing and benefit advisers.

“Our aim is to create a Place of Change in Poole. We plan to establish a one-stop centre, ‘All Under One Roof’, for both the homeless and vulnerably / newly housed through partnership with all relevant local agencies. In order to achieve this aim, we need our own premises. We are renovating 104 Hill Street, a former Baptist Church, a Poole town centre building which we purchased outright in February 2020. The building is large enough to accommodate our drop-ins and a winter shelter but is in need of substantial refurbishment.”

Routes to Roots receives no fixed funding but relies on grants and donations from local churches, businesses and individuals. They anticipate requiring a further £30,000 to complete phase 1 of the new one stop centre, and another £75,000 for phase 2. So, it will be for this that we aim to dedicate some of the funds that we hopefully raise through the Arts4Action auction.

One last fact about St Martin...

And another good reason for holding the auction at this time of year…

From St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) people started the 40 days of fasting that was later called ‘Advent’ by the Church. This is a part of the calendar that we are of course still very much aware of, though perhaps not that Advent was once the time of spiritual rather than victual preparation for Christmas!

And let us BID you a very merry Christmas!

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