A church leader today said they had no option but to flatten a community hall as it was too expensive to repair.
Rev Chris Nelson, vicar of St Mary’s C of E Church in Penwortham, said church leaders had been “wrestling for two years” over what to do about the dilapidated church hall in Cop Lane.
To the surprise of users, on Saturday plans were revealed to sell the site and plough the money into the main church building in Church Avenue, where ‘pods’ would be built to accommodate community groups.
Rev Nelson said: “Considering it was only meant as a stop-gap for 30 years the hall building has done really well, but it has come to the end of its life.
“If we had the money to rebuild the hall we would, but we don’t have a bean.
“So you have to sell something to do something else. This is a way we can reinvest back into Penwortham and the church, and we hope many of the hall tenants can share the new facilities with us.
“We are building for the future and accomodating who we can as best we can.”
But users of the hall, including an after school group and amateur dramatic society, said they have been left worrying about their future.
The historic church is located half a mile away from the church hall site in a residential area.
A spokesman for Penwortham St Mary’s Amateur Dramatic Society said: “We only found out on Saturday and obviously, it’s pretty disastrous for us.
“We put on three performances every year and hold performances, as well as storing our costumes and props there.
“It’s all up in the air at the moment. There’s a meeting next week with the trustees to talk about other possible locations, but we’re worried about moving too far out of Penwortham and losing our patrons.
“But whatever happens, we’re determined to carry on, even if it means just putting together radio plays for Galloways.”
He added: “It’s a sad time and a double whammy for Penwortham, with the threatened closure of the youth centre down Priory Lane.
“We need a sugar daddy to come in and buy it for the community.”
The future of nearby Penwortham Youth and Community Centre in Priory Lane and the library in Liverpool Road is also under threat, as Lancashire County Council looks to make £303m cuts by 2020.
Maureen Brown, who has run the Kidzco out of school care club at the hall since 2005, said: “There had been rumours about the church hall for a while, because they haven’t spent anything on the place for years, but this was suddenly dropped on us on Saturday.
“My main concern was the parents. I’d have liked some time to prepare the parents and to figure out what to do, but we were given no time.
“But I’m in talks with Penwortham Girls’ High School to take one of their rooms, and the parents needn’t worry too much.
“It’s been stressful though, and it’s sad that there’s so many closures affecting Penwortham.”
The hall, which was built in 1969, is used throughout the week by a number of different groups.
As well as the after school club and amateur dramatic performances, it hosts a monthly farmers’ market, blood donation sessions, breast screening sessions, council neighbourhood forum meetings, dance classes and is used as a polling station.
Howick and Priory Coun David Bird said: “It’s sad news for Penwortham, but I can understand the position the church is in.
“I’m not sure what can be done about it, perhaps it would be good if the community could come together to try and save it.
“If the library in Liverpool Road is closed, the youth centre in Priory Lane goes and this is sold, then it would be absolutely devastating for Penwortham.”
Rev Nelson added: “The hall users were the first people we spoke with.
“We are very aware of the difficulties that our tenants will have to work through during the period of closure and redevelopment. We have already initiated a dialogue with them and will assist them in any way we can.
“We hope that many will be able to relocate and share with us the exciting new facilities, including the potential offered by the additional space in our recently re-ordered church building.”
He added: “We’re hoping to incorporate the St Mary’s Scout group who have a scout hut at the church hall site.
“We’re going to have four decent-sized rooms on the north west corner of the church that can be made into two rooms.
“We’re not going to have the big hall, but the church can be used as a big hall, and there can be lots of crossing over. There isn’t a stage, but then Shakespearean plays are put on in the round.”
Rev Nelson said the basic design for the new ‘pods’ at the church had been run past the church planning authority and South Ribble Council planning department, and no objections had been raised. Formal plans still need to be entered.
The ‘pods’ would transform a 1950s extension already built onto the north west corner of the church. It would become two-storey with two sets of toilets and new kitchen facilities.
The extension would be built in the same style as the 1950s extension, so it is inkeeping with its historic surroundings.
Rev Nelson said: “The church is a heritage site and we will be mixing it with a modern church.
“Yes, it’s out on a limb, if we could move the church to Cop Lane then we would, but we can’t. Instead we are setting ourselves up to go forward.”
It is thought the church hall will remain open for another year while plans are formalised.
Other churches in the Penwortham area are now working with St Mary’s to offer alternative accomodation to tenants.