Couple tells planners that community will be at the heart of conversion of redundant village church

PUBLISHED: 14:06 19 November 2020 | UPDATED: 14:06 19 November 2020

St Peter's Church in Prickwillow. Picture: Steve Williams.

St Peter's Church in Prickwillow. Picture: Steve Williams.

Archant

Artist, musician, Tai Chin teacher Cary Outis and his partner Ricki, a tutor, specialist screen printer, and workshop leader, have bought a redundant church.

With planning permission agreed by East Cambridgeshire District Council their aim is to transform it into a community focused arts centre.

The couple snapped up St Peter’s church, Prickwillow, earlier this year.

The church dates from the late 19th century but ceased to be a place of worship in 2011 when it was declared redundant.

In 2014 a scheme was put forward to convert it to a large house but nothing came of it.

When the building came up for sale this year, Cary and Ricki bought it and submitted proposals for two 2-bedrooms apartments by converting the north and south transepts.

On the ground floor will be an art studio and educational space.

The couple told planners their proposals call for “far less intervention in the fabric of the structure than was originally proposed, thus preserving the overall appearance of the property”.

Their proposals will also increase public access “and opportunities for community involvement”.

The church is a single storey building of brick covered with napped flint, on wooden piles. It features a nave, a central bell turret over the crossing, transepts, and a south porch.

The tiled roof is constructed of scissor rafters with crown posts on king trusses. The clock and movement, and the bell, remain.

The new owners say that the two apartments to be built in the transepts will be rented out.

They will be “entirely discrete from the main body of the building”.

The nave, crossing and apse will continue, after refurbishment and repairs, as one open space.

“This space will be used for personal studio, cultural, for educational and community purposes,” the couple said in a design statement to East Cambs Council.

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“We anticipate running art workshops for small groups on an irregular basis, and holding occasional exhibitions.”

They say parking on the road will be discouraged, especially directly outside the church, as it is close to a rise in the road approaching a bridge.

“Further into the village there is ample parking if needed, but we are satisfied that the parking space on the property will prove more than sufficient in 90 per cent of cases,” says their design statement.

“Concerns from a neighbour about noise will be taken very seriously and every effort will be made to minimise disturbance.

“It is important to note however that we have no plans whatsoever to make an unreasonable amount of noise, and we of course wish to have good relations with our new neighbours.

“As the church has been unoccupied for more than a decade, its new life may take a little while to adjust to for those living nearby, but we believe it will soon be thought of as a genuine asset to the village once up and running.” The clock, its movement, and the bell remain in the building “and will be fully reinstated.

“Allowing the bell to ring will be subject to consultation with the community!”.

A report by the Church Commissioners offers some background to the closure.

“After the congregation had dwindled to one or two and no-one was willing to act as churchwarden or serve on the PCC, the diocese carefully considered the future of St Peter’s,” it says.

They decided that keeping the building open for regular worship was unsustainable.

“Early local consultations found there wasn’t sufficient support in Prickwillow to keep the church open as a centre of local worship and ministry,” the commissioners reported.

“Following the closure of St Peter’s, adequate provision for worship and mission in the area could be found in the six other churches in the parish of Ely.”

The church was formally closed for regular public worship on September 28, 2011.

Built in 1866-68, St Peter’s is an unlisted Victorian Gothic church built of flint.

The commissioners said it has “some landscape value” due to its tall bell-cote and location at the eastern edge of the village.

The only listed building in Prickwillow is the former pumping station, now a museum.

Previous planning consent for change of use would have allowed the church to be converted to a five bedroom house.


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