Church item out of date

PUBLISHED: 11:10 08 March 2007 | UPDATED: 12:18 04 May 2010

Protesters unhappy about the sale of the Soham Church Hall.

Protesters unhappy about the sale of the Soham Church Hall.

TO the best of my knowledge, St Andrew s Parochial Church Council (PCC) sent you a press statement following their meeting at the beginning of February. To claim that you have not been able to represent the Church s view is, at best, disingenuous. For you

TO the best of my knowledge, St Andrew's Parochial Church Council (PCC) sent you a press statement following their meeting at the beginning of February.

To claim that you have not been able to represent the Church's view is, at best, disingenuous.

For your information, the on-line poll stood at 266 votes last evening - so your figure of 109 votes (p6 of last week's edition) is clearly the previous week's news! This number is, admittedly significantly smaller than the number of signatures on the petition, but is still more than twice the figure you give in your editor's comment.

Your coverage of the issue has done nothing at all to further what used to be good relations between St Andrew's Church and your paper.

Given the media coverage over the past few weeks, it is unlikely to have escaped your attention that St Andrew's Church PCC has reached the difficult decision to sell the Church Hall.

Few could disagree that the hall is in a desperate state of repair. The reason for this is that St Andrew's simply cannot afford to maintain two buildings - the church itself and the hall.

People in the town stopped booking the hall for discos, youth clubs, sporting activities and other events long ago in favour of using better facilities such as the sports centre or some of the other 17 halls in the town.

With no money coming in, there was no money to improve the building. Latterly, the hall was leased to an auction firm for a small monthly sum, which barely covered the cost of insurance, electric, water and heating.

St Andrew's has long needed to install basic kitchen facilities and a toilet in order to meet the needs of today's congregation and, to do so, needs to re-order parts of the church building.

There are no other public buildings in Soham without toilet facilities and it certainly makes it very difficult for some people to attend church. A kitchen would enable us to hold fund-raising and fellowship events, both very important to the life of a church.

The magnificent organ also needs completely restoring and it is sensible to do this while the re-ordering and building work takes place, all of which will make St Andrew's more accessible and mean it can be used by other organisations within the community for meetings and events, too.

It will also mean we can host concerts and dramatic productions which is a very exciting prospect. This work is expected to cost in the region of £300,000 and a development fund has already been set up to meet this target.

Indeed, the wonderful Bible reading marathon, the Bible Bonanza, completed last May, raised more than £5,000 for this fund. This modest re-ordering is being done to open up the church for the whole community throughout the week, not just the churchgoers and not just on Sundays.

However, St Andrew's now has additional expenses. An architect from English Heritage has been to look at the ever-deteriorating condition of the roof and has worryingly said we need to spend £300,000 to replace it as a matter of utmost urgency.

With all this in mind, the PCC has had to look at how it can generate more funds and the answer lays in selling the redundant hall, which, at present, is only costing the church money. The sale would mean we meet the needs of a 21st century congregation - be they those attending a Sunday service, baptism, wedding or funeral - and secure the roof for centuries to come.

The Church Hall went on to the market with estate agents, Cheffins, in the autumn of last year at a guide price of £350,000. Anyone interested in purchasing it was welcome to put forward a bid, be they local people with a desire to retain the site for the town or housing developers.

There was so much interest that it went to sealed bids. Any interested parties were asked to put forward their bid by the middle of December 2006. In the end, seven bids were received, all from housing developers. As the Church is a charity it must, by law, accept the highest bid.

However, after the closing date for bids, East Cambridgeshire District Council, at the request of two of its councillors who represent Soham, asked the PCC not to agree a sale until January 31, 2007 so it could see if it could raise funds to purchase the site (though it is unclear whether its plan was to refurbish the current hall, demolish it and build another or replace it with a car park).

As a goodwill gesture, the PCC agreed to wait until the end of January before accepting an offer. East Cambridgeshire District Council was unable to find funds but it offered Soham Town Council £5,000 to look into grants so it might be able to purchase the site. The town council then requested the PCC delay any sale by a further three months.

Understandably, the PCC was placed in a very awkward position. The developers who had bid for the site had done so according to the rules - rules which the PCC had agreed to adhere to. The PCC was legally bound to go ahead and accept the highest bid (which, as stated before, as a charity it must do) but had it waited for the town council in the hope grants might be forthcoming and they were not, it would have very likely resulted in the loss of any chance of a sale.

St Andrew's would, therefore, be unable to carry out any of the work needed to ensure the church continues to beat at the heart of this community for years to come. Therefore, the PCC has accepted the bid from the developer and the sale will proceed.

It has saddened everyone involved in the sale that it has become such a fiercely and sometimes negatively debated issue and that some of the local press coverage has been very misleading, but it is hoped that this statement clears up any confusion.

THE REV TIM ALBAN JONES

Vicar of St Andrew's

SOHAM

Editor's Note: I stand by my previous comment. We made several attempts to contact the PCC to respond to our initial story. The press release you refer to arrived just a few hours before our news deadline, and this was only after a reporter had made several phone calls urging the PCC to respond. The PCC has since admitted it wanted to remain silent on the issue, which is its prerogative, but please tell me how we were suppose to represent both points of view fairly when your members were refusing to talk to us and not returning calls. You might want to concentrate on the large number of people in Soham who feel upset and let down by some members of their local church.

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