Derelict church still being targeted by gangs of yobs

CONCERNS: Coun Philip Corker outside the vandalised Brookfield Methodist Church PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS.
CONCERNS: Coun Philip Corker outside the vandalised Brookfield Methodist Church PHOTO. KEVIN McGUINNESS.
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Boarded up, run down and strewn with graffiti. This is the Preston church still being plagued by gangs of yobs and vandals.

More than 18 months after the Evening Post first highlighted problems at the derelict church building in Brookfield, residents say the problems are worse than ever.

Issues of vandalism and anti-social behaviour are being reported regularly at Brookfield Methodist Church, while some reports have also been received at Brookfield Church of Ascension, which churches bosses are hoping to eventually transform into a hub for local people.

Community leaders have described the ongoing problems at the once vibrant community building as “unacceptable” and one church member said it was a major concern.

This huge building was once a busy, vibrant hub at the heart of one of Preston’s most closely-knit communities.

But several years ago, Brookfield Methodist Church closed its doors. And things changed.

Soon after, the building, in Oakworth Avenue, Ribbleton, became a magnet for problems. Vandals, drunks and nuisance-causing youths started to use it as a base.

More than 18 months ago the Evening Post highlighted the plight of the derelict building – and the nearby Brookfield Church of Ascention, in Watling Street Road.

Despite pleas, the problems are still as bad as ever.

Police are stepping up patrols around the churches in a bid to curb the problems, while bosses at both buildings say efforts are being made to transform them into community centres.

But officers are still getting regular calls to the two churches from worried residents.

Coun Philip Corker, who represents the Brookfield area on Preston Council, said: “I grew up around here and it is a shame to see things like this going on.

“I’m really stumped about what we can do about it, to be honest. At the end of the day, as a councillor, my hands are tied because it is not council land.”

Coun Nerys Eaves, who also represents the Brookfield area, said: “It is unacceptable, The police are doing their best and they are struggling with it.

“Obviously it would be better if someone could get the buildings sorted out.”

Today one church leader admitted the ongoing issues were “a concern.”

The Evening Post first highlighted the plight of Preston’s church buildings in August 2011, when our reporter visited Brookfield Methodist Church to find a group of youths on the building’s roof, hurling missiles off the top.

At that stage, church leaders said they hoped both Brookfield buildings could be sold off and renovated, bringing the problems to an end. But nothing materialised.

The problems are largely centred on Brookfield Methodist Church, which closed its doors in 2005 and has since been a magnet for problems.

Rev Stephen Poxon, district chairman of the Lancashire Methodist District, said: “It is a concern. For a number of years the Methodist Church generally has been in conversation with communities (about what can be done.)

“From my point of view, we have got places like this right across east Lancashire where once vibrant communities are no longer.

“But we are looking to see how we can revitalise these communities by using our buildings creatively.

“We are in conversation with a number of other groups, including the city council, about possible partnerships.”

Meanwhile the former Church of Ascention closed its doors in 2010 and has seen problems with vandals and fly-tippers.

But Rev Nigel Stimpson, team rector for Ribbleton, says the church has also been working with others – in this case the YMCA and other agencies – to turn the Church of Ascention into a community use facility - and the plans are close to being made public.

“I know there have been some problems (at the Ascention),” he said. “The Methodist Church, sadly, is being targeted.

“We have tried our best in terms of keeping an eye on the property. We are not selling the church - we are working in partnership with the YMCA and other agencies to develop the site for community use.

“Because of the current financial climate things are taking a little longer than we would have hoped but we are close to going public with those plans.”

A report from the last Police and Communities Together (PACT) meeting for the Brookfield area said residents had complained of anti social behaviour and criminal activity around the churches.

It added: “The empty churches continue to be targeted on an occasional basis by youths causing anti-social behaviour and committing minor criminal offences. Police have received several calls again this month to both churches and targeted patrols continue to be in place to combat the issue as ongoing discussions await the new owners.”