Cunning techniques to sell a superfluous church?

by The Curious Scribbler

Walking along Queen’s Road these days one finds a strangely discordant sight, the 19th century Catholic Church, St Winefride’s, has suddenly found itself encased in security fencing and strident site warning signs.  Which is odd because the building is pleasing to look upon, with well tended lawns and a pretty Presbytery House, occupied until just a few months ago, which is framed in roses and hydrangeas.  It has always made an uplifting scene in this Conservation Area of Aberystwyth, the only building which is well set back, providing a green oasis of lawn.

Intimidating security fences have appeared around St Winefride’s Church

But all is not well in this idyllic spot, for the Catholic Bishop of Menevia is set upon dispensing with this church, much to the dismay of many of the parishioners, for whom it is of personal and cultural  importance. That very lawn is perhaps the key to its undoing, for the site of house, church and garden would accommodate a lucrative development of flats – (what is described in the application as a ‘Quality Mixed Residential Development’).  The Bishop plans to bring in the wrecking ball and demolish the lot.

The Presbytery and its pretty garden will be neglected until demolition can be secured.

The Council Planning Department however opposes the demolition of much-loved buildings in a Conservation Area, and the legislation suggests that before this course of action can be considered the owner must put the building up for sale to establish whether an alternative use can be found. And so it is shortly to be put up with a local Agent.  Now, while most people trying to sell a slightly shabby but charming building would try to emphasise its best points, it seems the Church has other ideas.  The security fencing is an eyesore, and erected as it is upon the lawn, the garden will soon be overgrown and ugly too.  The best outcome from the Bishop’s point of view would be to demonstrate that no buyer will match their price, and then re-apply for demolition.

The parishioners meanwhile have not been idling.  The Save St Winefride’s campaign has funded surveyors to consider the realistic costs of repairing a sound but somewhat elderly building, and have drawn up plans to renovate the buildings and build an additional Church Hall upon the site.  This design is unpretentious, sympathetic, and has been granted Planning Permission by the County Council.  The whole project would cost £1.2 million, far less than the £2.7 million estimated by the Bishop’s architects for their impossibly expensive version of the job.

Capture

So why not accept the wishes of the congregation?  The Bishop has an alternative plan, first promoted in 2008, centred upon a little-known ruin two miles from the town centre in the suburb of Penparcau.  Here is another Church, the far more neglected Welsh Martyrs.  A brutalist concrete structure from 1968, it has been closed for many years.  Few people have even noticed it, for it is down a side road near the Tollgate public house.  The new Pevsner described is as “an interesting design, let down by poor finish and detail”. The Bishop wants to pull that down too, and with more justification.

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk/photo14087508.html#photo

The derelict church of Welsh Martyrs, Penparcau. Photographed by Paul White, http://www.welshruins.co.uk/photo14087508.html#photo

 

You could, alternatively, put a block of flats here, but Penparcau is not as sought-after as the town centre, the site is less valuable, and the profits would doubtless be less.  Instead, the vision is that Catholic worshippers from the town will take one of the rare Sunday buses out to Penparcau and walk down to a newly-built modernist building on the Welsh Martyrs site. It is hard to imagine that this will be a popular choice with worshippers.  University students, who include many foreign Catholics will have a yet more daunting journey from their halls of residence on the opposing hill.  Townsfolk who have been hatched, matched and dispatched at Queen’s Road for generations would like to go on doing so.

The repercussions continue from a well organised parishioner and community action group which has become more active and vociferous as it has found its views to be ignored by the Church.  There have been representations to the Vatican, consultations on Canon Law, opposing teams of surveyors and valuers, a sit-in in the church, an offer of resignation from the Board of Trustees by the incumbent priest.  The Diocese of Menevia, though, is a vast catholic administrative region – stretching right down to Swansea.  Angry Aberystwyth must seem very insignificant to a property-developer Bishop.

For much more detail visit http://savestwinefrides.co.uk/home.html which gives links to a Dropbox bulging with damning evidence of manipulation behind the scenes.

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14 thoughts on “Cunning techniques to sell a superfluous church?

  1. It’s not the first time that this sort of thing has happened. I seem to recall reading of the wholesale stripping of church buildings all across the country for their intrinsic value, and often contrary to the wishes of the local congregation. It may have been four-and-a-half centuries ago, and have links to one man’s marital difficulties, but the parallels are there methinks.

  2. From what I gather, the building is so unsound that no-one will insure it- which is why they’re not letting anyone in and want to get rid of it. Also I’d be interested to know how the protesting parishioners expect to get £1.2/2.6 million (bearing in mind that the Penparcau site cannot be sold for property development for legal reasons).

    • There seems to be good evidence on the savestwinefrides.co.uk website which shows that the church was declared unsound and uninsurable at a time when there was in fact recently-renewed insurance cover in place! The parishioners have also commissioned a professional survey which contests the claim that the church is seriously dangerous or unduly expensive to repair.

      • If you had done your homework, you will have discovered that major work on St Winefrides started approx. 50 years after it was built. It was built on the cheapest land to the North of Aber using the cheapest materials.
        The East wall had to be replaced, the walls had to be reinforced with rods to prevent movement, the roof had to be replaced and the Mary chapel is in a poor state. The presbytery had to have a new roof and there are serious cracks in the walls…so ongoing costs over and above routine maintenance have dogged its existence. So not that much of what is there now is actually Victorian! St Paul’s – also in Queen’s road – was rebuilt a few decades ago. It is situated on the same riverbed as St Winefride’s. The main costs involved were taken up with foundations. I don’t think the Barratt appraisal has taken that into consideration. Why should we give credence to this ‘appraisal’ over the very thorough Ash report?

        • It still looks Victorian! Surely the essence is that many people, both townsfolk and actual parishioners, like this building and feel it should be protected, repaired and used in its present form.

  3. This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Aberystwyth and must be preserved. I work nearby and look at it every time I pass. Just cannot believe that it needs so much renovation as to make it worth only destruction. There is definitely something fishy going on there. The grounds have been left to waste and trees have been cut down and dumped. They are turning it into an eyesore so that no one will want to pay what it is worth. It needs a gardening party to go round and tidy it up. Such a shame to see it neglected so badly.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me at all!! Especially if there’s a certain estate agent and developer involved!!! I’ve love to name names… But I think you can all guess who I’m referring to. Such a shame what’s wrong with these so called people with power in town!! No vision!!

  5. I think it should be noted that this is not the view of the *whole* congregation. I will agree that St Winefreds is a lovely building but anyone who has been there during the coldest months have to agree that your teeth will chatter and it has had the supports up in the rafters holding it together long before I came to Aberystwyth over 10 years back, yes, totally safe and sound.

    Whilst the new journey will be a little harder than the old, if the congregation were true Catholics with the correct values then surely lifts would be offered and arrangements made for those less able to make it up the hill.

    Just because Bishop Tom (who by the way is a lovely man who I met in Lourdes last year) and other members of the clergy haven’t shared their full reasons with every Tom, Dick and Harry who has demanded to know them doesn’t mean they are malicious or that he has it in for the parish. I feel that it is time everyone embraces some change and accept the lovely new stable church that will eventually be given to us.From a more personal experience, he doesn’t make major decisions lightly.

  6. FYI, Scribbler, there is an interesting disclaimer at the foot of the home page of the SoS website: ‘SoS is a private charity and not associated with the Catholic Parish of Aberystwyth of the Diocese of Menevia’.
    Yet they presume to make pronouncements on behalf of the parish…? hmm
    As a parish there has been extensive consultation throughout. Many of us are satisfied that our way forward is with the new Church, Presbytery and Parish Hall – for which we have planning permission – at Penparcau.
    But a few campaigning zealots among us are intent on papering over the cracks at St Winefrides, and have presumed to talk on behalf of the whole parish.
    They do not.
    Over many months they have attempted to cajole and harass parishioners to their point of view – legal, but immoral! Parishioners have been put off attending Mass as a result.
    They continue to undermine anyone opposing their point of view by sowing seeds of distrust in any communication from the Bishop via the media, bringing shame on us all as a parish.
    Scribbler, ‘manipulation behind the scenes’ is NOT a fault of the Diocese, but of SoS.

  7. I completely disagree with the views expressed in this article. The matter has been properly discussed (over the last 12 years or so) and decided upon by the parish, bishop…even the Vatican! The views expressed by some members of the Aberystwyth congregation are being shouted about in the local press as the outcome of the proper discussions was not to their taste. This group seems set on undermining the thriving and supportive parish that I have grown up in. As to the ‘little-known ruin’, it was until not that long ago a well attended and much more practical site with parking space, easy access & located in highly populated area of the town. This campaigning is effectively damaging the parish, creating mistrust as well as scandal in the public eye. From my experience Bishop Tom definitely does not deserve this kind of insult. The solution to long standing problems with unsuitable buildings is being hindered by SOS at great cost to the Catholic community here in Aberystwyth.

  8. The pretext for fencing off the church was a so-called “fall of masonry” – in reality just one fragment of coping stone fell, smaller and lighter than a slate or roof tile. As one parishioner remarked at the time, “If a slate or tile fell off the roof of your house, would you (a) evacuate your house, surround it with a fence, and have it demolished, or (b) get someone to fix the roof?”

    Your blog article is dead right.

    • As a public building, this incident cannot be compared with a private house.
      How big does a falling bit of masonry have to be to cause injury?
      How many times does it have to occur before someone gets hurt?
      Safety fencing – the hint is in the name.

  9. That church in Penparcau (that people are talking about) is architecturally unique in many respects and should be documented properly. It’s an amazing building and very rare. Tom Price was a local architect and the church is referenced in The Buildings of Wales – Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion as one of two notable post-war churches in both counties. I’m not sure that St Winefride is mentioned in the book at all.

    It’s very very rare to see a church build based upon a quarter circle, the glass, the modernist approach and the ‘pseudo’ buttressing is in many respects a unique feature. I do hope that people are intelligent enough to see the value of this building and not to blinkered. It would be a shame for our children not to be able to appreciate this.

    However, it’s a place of worship and the church is the people not the building. I do hope that we don’t forget the importance of the church in Penparcau, the community there is strong and the area up and coming.

    • In The Buildings of Wales- Carmarthen and Ceredigion, St Winefride’s is indeed described, and gets 8 lines, to the Welsh Martyrs 6 lines.

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