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Rollercoaster first year for Pipe Up

Pipe Up was formed just over a year ago, and what a year it has been.

With a bit of perspective, we can say that it’s been in three phases:

Phase 1: Henry takes the stage

The first started in July 2022, just after we got our final approval from the Charity Commission that we were thrown headlong into some very welcome activity.

A long-running dream of one of our co-founders, Martin Renshaw, was suddenly achieved: to persuade Network Rail to allow a pipe organ to be placed in a railway station, in the same way that pianos have already been installed.

Suddenly the lights turned green and a small group of Trustees loaded the 1880 Henry Jones organ from Martin’s garage (to which it had been recovered 12 months previously, from a closed URC church in Whetstone) and delivered it, over three late evenings, to the chosen spot in the concourse of London Bridge Station in Southwark.

It took three further days’ work by us to clean Henry, make a few repairs, re-assemble, tune and test him.

And just before Henry was ready, we had a surprise visit from celebrity organist and social media star Anna Lapwood, who made a TikTok video of her discovery which duly went viral. She’s seen playing part of Bach’s G Minor Fugue (BWV 543.)

In a week, Henry was transformed from a collection of dusty parts in a garage to a media star in his own right.

Finally, the gates were opened and access to Henry was opened up.

Ever since, Henry has supplied us with few problems and much delight as we watched an astonishing array of passers-by take to his keyboards and play everything from Chopsticks to Bach in a delightful confusion of styles and every level of achievement.

Henry even got a mention in the media in the Netherlands.

Recently, Henry has been filmed by ITV, two BBC shows, appeared in dozens of YouTube, Instagram and TikTok videos and been used for recordings (notably by the Royal College of Organists).

Phase 2: The Christmas Broadcast of “Organ Stops”

On Christmas Eve 2022, BBC broadcast a slightly shortened version of James Dawson’s acclaimed 2021 film which (over many months) followed Martin Renshaw’s efforts to re-home a series of unwanted Nelson organs from closed churches in County Durham. Some successful (to Clapton, East London, and France) and others, sadly not. We alerted supporters via an email.

The broadcast had some 400,000 viewers live, and many more afterwards on i-player.

We expected a surge of interest, and were prepared for this. Hundreds of people registered for news of Pipe Up.

What was a surprise, however, was the number of notifications of unwanted organs that it generated. These came in thick and fast via our website, sometimes 3 or 4 in a week.

There’s another news item analysing these a more detail, but suffice to say, they were from almost all parts of the country, involving all sizes of organs. After some sifting and prioritising, we now have a list of 33 organs ranging from simple disuse through neglect, to imminent danger – just like those featured in “Organ Stops.”

It has been a humbling and time-consuming experience, corresponding with all the churchwardens, trustees, and congregation members all of them trying to find solutions to the problems. Some now seem safe, but others – notably five more Nelson organs in County Durham – are threatened, just as those featured in the film.

Phase 3: James, and gearing up for Salvage Operations: and now, membership and crowdfunding

In April 2023, Martin struck again: we helped install a rescued 1880 James Trustam organ from Bedfordshire in the Whitgift Shopping Centre, Croydon, this time, sponsored by the London Mozart Players.

But for much of the spring and summer, our priority has been to find storage facilities for the organs identified as those most imminent risk of destruction.

Despite a number of offers of help, this has proved a serious challenge. We’ve investigated dozens of buildings as potential “organ refuges”, including a number of redundant hospital chapels.

We have an offer of a railway arch rent-free for a year (again, thanks to Network Rail), a redundant church in the Midlands, and an archive building in Lincolnshire, all of which we following up vigorously.

It’s a race against time. The imminently-threatened organs are the ones in closed-down churches – many of them Methodist churches.

In parallel, we’re launching our membership scheme, and a crowdfunding appeal, so as to enable these rescues to take place. Please help us by becoming a member or making a donation.


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