Angry demonstrations after plans to demolish Preston church hall 'out of the blue'

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Parishioners are outraged over plans to demolish a church community hub in Fulwood.

But the vicar at Broughton St John’s the Baptist Church says the site is not financially viable in its current form and is “regrettably” having to push forward with the redevelopment.

Protesters outside the parish hall in Fulwood

Protesters outside the parish hall in Fulwood

Members of the community say they understand the financial difficulties involved but are angry at the way the news of the demolition of a major community hub has come “out of the blue”.

Cliff Bell, 80, of Fulwood said: “Two weeks ago there was an announcement in church saying that due to financial difficulties the decision had been taken to by the parochial church council (PCC) to demolish St Martin’s Parish Church Hall.

“It’s just the way they have gone about it. Twelve months ago there were strong rumours that there was going to be housing built on the place. We were categorically told that it was malicious gossip that needed to be stopped and now look what’s happened.

“There has been no consultation.

“There’s nothing else like this in virtually the whole of Fulwood. There’s a lot of angry people who are not going to be able to use it in the future.

“The Hall Players have been here 60 years and they were instrumental in getting the hall built.

“What has upset people a lot is the way that they have decided it out of the blue.”

St Martin’s Parish Hall Complex in Broadway is made up of a bowling green, a guide hut, St Martin’s hall, a social club and a car park. The community buildings, which provide a central hub for people living in the vicinity, sit on land owned by the church.

Assistant secretary at St John’s Bowling Club Joan Wild told the Post that the club has 65 playing members with seven teams playing out of the green.

It also has 250 social members: “It’s come as a great shock that the whole place is going,” she said.

“The church do own the land but there are so many people who use that complex who can’t use it in the future.

“I think that the way that they have done it is the worst. The vicar and his PCC just gave out leaflets about three weeks ago and that was it. They didn’t get in touch with any of the groups who use it.”

In place of the complex the church plans to create a new community facility which will include a new chapel and church hall, a parish office, a fully equipped kitchen and other rooms for parish and community use.

The work will be funded by the sale of part of the land to build nine apartments for over-55s and five houses.

Rev Shaun Baldwin said: “The decision to move forward with plans to redevelop the site of St Martin’s Chapel and Hall is one that has been taken prayerfully and with careful consideration of all options.

“As charity trustees the ruling body of our church has a duty to ensure the best possible management of the assets we own to fully support our key aim which is, of course, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through mission in and with the local community.

“This site belongs to the parish church and financially it is simply not viable for us in its current form. We must take action.

“Sadly, the present building is not fit for purpose and costs for refurbishment are coming in at upwards of £600,000 including VAT.”

He continued: “It is hugely regrettable that, as part of the planned redevelopment, some of the current facilities will be lost. We wish there was another way to achieve the same outcome, but we are confident the vast majority of people in the parish and local community will be delighted with their new facility.”

Nick Brown, 67, of Queens Drive in Fulwood, added: “This is going to destroy the community in this area.

“The church hall does need money spending on it but they should be looking at other ways of doing it.”

More than 500 residents turned up to a meeting on Sunday, chaired by the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, to put their questions to the church.

Monica Smirk, guide leader for the fourth Broughton Guides, said: “The end result was that everyone left the meeting with nothing resolved. The church aren’t budging. They said they are not going to make us pay for the demolition.

“The one thing that they did let slip was that they’ve been looking at this since 2007. It was just a bit of an angry meeting.

“The church has allowed us to have this hut for a peppercorn rent but the church never built it - it was funded by the Guide Association. Seven units meet here from the Rainbows up to the Guides.

“We are losing a total of 250 families that we support in scouting and guiding.

“We have nowhere else to go.”

However following the public meeting on Sunday, Rev Bell said: “We have heard the breadth of opinions expressed by the wider community and we need now to pray and reflect on the discussions.”

When the Post contacted PCC treasurer Jim Titterington he declined to comment.

Leaders of the various community groups which meet at the complex are now forming an action committee.