Church’s history remembered as it celebrates a special anniversary

First published on: 18th December 2023

A church which has evolved with its community over the decades has marked a significant anniversary in 2023.

St Francis’ in High Heaton hosted a special week of events to mark the 70th anniversary of the consecration of the current church building, back on 3 October 1953.

These included a sung eucharist with Bishop Helen-Ann preaching and presiding, as well as a Feast of Dedication eucharist followed by bulb planting and a display of photographs and memorabilia. 

The Revd Robert Lawrance, Vicar at St Francis’ since 2015, said: “This year has been quite a milestone for the church and it has been a privilege to remember and honour those who worked so hard to establish a church here before and after the Second World War.”

Until the 1920s, High Heaton was predominantly farmland. After housebuilding began, a mission hut for the church of St Francis was built on Cragside, High Heaton, in 1935. Housebuilding continued after the war and land was set aside for a new church building, which was completed in 1953.

It was an ambitious project, costing an estimated £12,000 to build (over £400,000 in today’s money), with £1,200 (over £40,000 in today’s money) raised within the community for furnishings.

The south aisle and chapel were added in 1957 and cost £4,000 including furnishings. The vicarage was built in 1958 following a successful tender of £7,332.

Robert added: “There were a lot of dedicated lay people who were committed to the mission church and it was their vision and hard work which raised such a lot of money. High Heaton is a well-established suburb now and their legacy is a church which continues to flourish and serve today’s community.”

St Francis’ has a healthy congregation, with between 50 and 100 people attending two services on a Sunday. The church currently runs an after-school club for teenagers and is a weekly Place of Welcome, offering warm space, hot drinks and social interaction for those who need it, as well as a popular baby and toddler group. There’s also a monthly soup lunch on offer at St Francis’, which is open to all and is often frequented by staff at the nearby Freeman Hospital.

St Francis’ has good relations with other organisations in the neighbourhood, including the local football club, residents’ association and Heaton Churches Together, as well as the local mosque. Indeed, the church has an icon of St Francis greeting the Sultan of Egypt, marking this historic act of interfaith dialogue in 1219!

“It is part of our mission to engage with the community, to be a place where lives are transformed,” said Robert. “It’s about being a place of service and offering something to the community. Our values are the Franciscan values  of love humility and joy.”

St Francis’ has always moved with the times and like many other churches in the diocese, is environmentally focused. It currently has the silver A Rocha Eco Church status, following a number of successful initiatives. There has been a switch to low energy lighting, while the church manages its heating carefully, uses green electricity and carbon offset gas, of which is uses as little as possible. 

In addition, there are bird boxes and bat boxes at St Francis’, while trees, hedgerows and wildlife within the church grounds are carefully managed. Eco fests have taken place on the church field, and initiatives include a bee project to promote pollination, with three hives in the vicarage garden at present.

Robert said the church always aims to recycle, to reduce its carbon footprint, while members actively support environment campaigns.

During 2023, the church bid farewell to the Revd Yvette Daniel who has headed for Melbourne in Australia to serve as a vicar at St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Eltham, after three years as curate at St Francis’.

The week of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary also included the Transitus of St Francis - a unique Franciscan service marking the death of St Francis in 1226.

To find out more about the church, and St Francis himself, visit

Images (from top to bottom)

1. (Main image): St Francis' Church as it is today

2. St Francis' Church pictured in 1956/57. 

3. Bishop Helen-Ann with the Revd Yvette Daniel.

4. The cake is cut to celebrate the anniversary. 

5. Bulb planting at St Francis'. 



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