A GAMBIAN school will soon have clean water and sanitation thanks to Liz Cullen, who volunteered to spend a night locked alone inside a dark cell.

When Mrs Cullen, of Stanton St Quintin heard the vestry of her church, St Giles, was believed to have been an anchorite cell, she thought she would follow the hermits’ lead.

Anchorites would make a lifelong commitment to retire into seclusion in confined quarters to pray. Unlike them Mrs Cullen, 59, came out 12 hours later and went on to raise £2,700 for the Operafrica Gambian project.

Right Reverend Mike Hill, the Bishop of Bristol, carried out an enclosure ceremony before her lock-in last summer.

Afterwards she listened as people began to depart and the chatter of the congregation behind her sealed door tailed off. Finally she heard the sound of the key turning in the main church door and she knew she was alone.

“I couldn’t hear anything from the outside world at all, no cars or birdsong, nothing,” said Mrs Cullen, who lives in Lower Stanton.

Bedded down on the hard floor of the six-foot square room, the arthritis sufferer did not expect to get much rest.

“I was amazed I did sleep for a lot of the night in the end,” she said. “The Bishop said it doesn’t happen very often that that you go completely out of contact, and because of his service it all felt very tranquil.”

That was until she awoke in the middle of the night with a pounding heart on hearing a loud noise outside the vestry door. “There was a loud clunk as if something had dropped,” she said. “I still don’t know what that noise was.”

It was with relief she heard a key turning the next morning, and the donations started to pour in. “£2,700 was fantastic, but short of the £5,000 total that was quoted for the work to build a solar-powered borehole for the school in Kunkunding,” said Mrs Cullen But because of soaring inflation, the pound sterling was able to have more impact, so the money raised was sufficient and work has already begun.

She said: “I am torn between being overjoyed that my prayers have been answered to feeling sad that it is as a result of the terrible economic conditions.”