At risk Berwick Nativity painting gets early Christmas present

The interior of Berwick Church
The interior of Berwick Church

A large and unusual painting of the Nativity at Berwick Church, in need of urgent restoration, has received an early Christmas gift in the form of a £2,000 grant from the South Downs National Park Authority’s Sustainable Community Fund.

The Nativity is one of the huge murals filling the church, completed by artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell between 1941 and 1943 during the Second World War, all now at risk from serious paint flaking, salt damage and mould.

The artists were commissioned by Bishop Bell, despite being atheists and part of the unconventional Bloomsbury Group of artists. Many of the models used were from the local community and even the lamb in the stable is the local Southdown breed.

The Rev Peter Blee, Rector of Berwick Church, said: “The artists created what today might be called an ‘immersive’ experience of colour and design. Their paintings illustrate biblical texts drawing upon the European tradition of art and at the same time record the distinctively local landscape, rural life and people of the time. They express their love for place and people during a period in history when everything was at risk.”

Doug Jones, a South Downs National Park Authority Member who sits on the Sustainable Communities Fund, said: “The Berwick paintings and the stories they tell are part of the National Park’s heritage and have an important place in the community. They were created at a time of great change in both the world and the local area. I hope our funding will help to secure them and allow more people to experience and enjoy them.”

The funding from the National Park is just the start of a much larger campaign to stabilise the church’s environment which requires removing the roof, adding new insulation and installing underfloor heating. A large fundraising campaign to raise £950,000 is underway, find out more at berwickchurch.org.uk/support-us

Any partnership or other not for profit organisations can apply for funding if they believe their project is bringing social, environmental, economic or cultural benefits to a community within the National Park. Find out more at www.southdowns.gov.uk/sustainable-communities-fund/