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Sunderland graduate involved in restoring a church in Nigeria

Church in Nigeria

In a unique collaboration, specialist firms have helped restore 120-year-old stained glass windows for a church in Nigeria. 

Staff from North East companies have flown out to Africa to oversee the next stage in a restoration project involving 120-year-old stained glass.

The expertise of three local firms, including Wadds Glass in Gateshead which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, has been called upon to return a historic church window, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, to its former glory.

The story of how three local businesses became involved in restoring a church in Nigeria started with a visit to Lagos four years ago by stained glass artist and Sunderland graduate Maralyn O’Keefe, from Artcetra at The Glass & Art Gallery in Consett.

Wadds Glass, joined by Artcetra in Consett and Langley Furniture in Hexham , has been involved in painstaking work over the past few months on stained glass which was shipped over to England.

Artcetra repaired, cleaned and restored the panelled glass then it was transferred to Wadds on Team Valley Trading Estate which made it into triple-glazed units.

Finally Langley’s job is to make the wooden frame to show it off.

Maralyn O'Keefe through contacts at the University of Sunderland, where she originally studied Arts and Design in 1998, was invited by a bishop in Lagos, Nigeria, to undertake a project to restore stained glass in his cathedral.

Its windows were freighted over here where Maralyn tackled the difficult hard task of removing 100-plus years of city grime from both sides of the glass.

Finally she and her team uncovered clarity of colour which had been hidden for years and the results so impressed the bishop that she was asked to also help a local church too.

And this is where the other companies came in.

The traditionally-stained glass windows at St Paul’s Church, at Breadfruit in Laos, turned out to be “the worst job I’ve ever done!” said Maralyn.

She realised the extent of work needed when, to her horror, she uncovered botched repairs using industrial glass, which had then been spray-painted, as well as industrial varnish over the precious glass and lead.

At one point she needed an electric drill to remove some of it. “I’ve never used that before,” she said.

Besides her own expert care and attention, the main 120-year-old gothic-style window needed specialist double-glazing.

Nobody in Nigeria seemed to have any idea of its value and Maralyn was keen to protect and preserve it for the future.

“It was literally falling out of the church,” she recalled. “There had never been any maintenance and the frame had rotted.

“The windows are worth about £250,000-£300,000, and this was about protecting heritage, so I suggested the window needed double-glazing.

“I wouldn’t normally think of that but it was in need of protection.”

She added: “I’ve used Wadds Glass and trust them implicitly with my stained glass.”

The team at Wadds, which is owned by Eric Foster and renowned for its emergency glazing service, have more than 100 years’ experience between them in all aspects of glass, and its contract coordinator Steven Armstrong has been in charge of this project.

He and Geoff Jackson, from Langley, headed off to Lagos on Monday to do a site survey and prepare the frame in the church for the transformed window.

It has been shipped back home and is currently waiting at Customs in Nigeria where it is packaged up in three sections.

“The window is 20ft by 25ft and frame hasn’t been made yet so Langley will have a big job with that,” said Maralyn.

When the all-important new frame is ready, they will return in the New Year to install the glazed panels.

After that, there may be yet more work to come.

Maralyn, 64, was hoping to retire soon but it seems the people of Nigeria, who have been so welcoming and grateful, are keen to have her back as soon as possible.

“I’ve just had a phone call asking me to go and see a window in another church!” she said.

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