WORK to renovate a historic building linked to the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs has been given a boost after receiving lottery funding.

The Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust (TOCT) has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its renovation project, plus ‘in principle’ support for the main work – a total of almost £400,000.

The project aims to renovate the 200-year-old Grade II former Methodist chapel.

Development funding of £63,700 has been awarded to support plans and a full grant will be applied for at a later date.

The scheme aims to renovate and extend the former chapel so it can be reused as a ‘quiet place in the heart of the historic village’ and to provide a space for activities, exhibitions and community use.

This round-one funding together with in-principle support for the delivery stage of £329,300 allows the trust to produce detailed plans, as well as creating interpretation and community engagement activities to tell the history of the building and its connection to the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The property’s heritage significance is intrinsically linked to its development and use by the Tolpuddle Martyrs and its role as a central focus of the early 19th century Methodist circuit in rural Dorset. Research suggests that the original cob structure was built by two of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and their families. It is on Historic England’s At Risk Register.

Andrew McCarthy, Chairman of TOCT said: ‘The Trustees of the Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust welcome the support of HLF in awarding this grant towards the cost of renovating this unique former chapel.

“Since our purchase of this ‘At Risk’ building in 2015, the trust has received the backing of The Architectural Heritage Fund, Historic England, as well as a start-up grant from HLF.

“Numerous organisations and individuals have also contributed to our charity.”

Mr McCarthy added: “This highly significant development funding from HLF will help the trust move forward to develop our existing proposals to renovate and extend the former chapel and secure match funding.

“We hope our project will reconnect people with the harsh living and working conditions, faith, humility and simple building techniques of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, as well as ensuring this wonderful legacy is saved for future generations.”

West Dorset MP Sir Oliver Letwin, congratulated the trust saying: “It was a great delight to hear the news of the successful Heritage Lottery round one grant to Tolpuddle Old Chapel Trust.

“The vision to renovate and extend this wonderful former Methodist chapel will not only provide a unique quiet place, but with its extension, give great flexibility and definitely enhance the potential for wider community use as well as being an additional draw for tourists.”

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, added: “We are delighted to be able to support the restoration of Tolpuddle Old Chapel, and the interpretation of its fascinating history, with its close links with the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs.

“The important story of how they established the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, creating a union to negotiate for better wages, and were sentenced to transportation to Australia, will be an important part of the project.

“There are some wonderful opportunities for local people to be fully involved, both with the project and with the important heritage of their community, so we look forward to seeing the detailed proposals in due course.”