I want to talk about the Church Hall. At the last PCC meeting in November we began to discuss the church hall and its long term future for the first time. At that it was mentioned that some people believe that it’s already happened. Don’t listen to rumours, especially those put about by others who want to stir up trouble, but now, as soon as I can and before any decisions are made, I want to have a serious discussion with you about it.
The situation is this: the Hall is just over 100 years old, and in all honesty, it is in a very poor condition. When we did the deanery-wide asset audit, we had to rate it (on a scale of A-D) at C-.
It has intractable damp, an appalling flat roof, poor storage facilities and flaking walls. It costs quite a lot to maintain yet because of its condition, rents and therefore income is quite low. Yet, it provides a most necessary community role in this area – as well as a focus for our community outreach in the form of our hugely successful youth work and other mission work which are the primary reason why we have these rooms.
Twenty Years ago, we put a door in the South Wall of the Church to link to a hall provision in the churchyard. The churchyard of course has been closed for more than 100 years, we had the gravestones removed over 40 years ago and the corner of it removed 30 years ago to make the junction wider. We didn’t follow the new Church Hall plans through then, apparently because of cost (readers of Mike & Mary Talbot’s book will easily identify this pattern).
Ten years ago, we began to look at the value of the hall site. Even then it was significant, and the PCC looked into obtaining planning permission for the Hall site to turn into flats or houses. So plans for the Church Hall have been a long time in the formation.
In the meantime, we have the challenge of a half-reordered church, a new vigor for mission and outreach and a church which is “all front room and no parlour” – woefully lacking in storage space, decent heating or fellowship space which does not require a significant logistical challenge to move from Church to Hall, and are still not paying our way, and so the increasing costs of the hall are weighing upon our finances.
A number of things appear clear: we must do something, as in the future, our church cannot sustain the current situation. We therefore need to think about our options. No decision has been made as yet and no explorations have been entered into, despite what you may hear! The PCC want to hear your opinions on our options:
Option One: Do Nothing
The easiest solution will continue to drain our finances. Major repair works to the back rooms, the roof and the outside paving will mean that far from hall rents subsidizing the parish quota, the parish will be called on to underwrite these works.
Option Two: Rebuild a new hall on the existing site.
We would need to raise several hundred thousand pounds in order to achieve this. As we have difficulty paying our £23,000 quota, it becomes only possible with the aid of a lottery win.
Option Three: Sell and Rebuild in the Church Grounds with a major rebuild
We have as yet no idea how much the existing Church Hall site is worth, and we won’t ask until we feel this is the right way forward. How we do this is also the subject of debate: whether we get planning permission prior to sale (which will raise significantly more money), sell it directly or enter into an arrangement with a Housing Association (a sort of PFI – Private Finance Initiative type deal) are all possibilities, your opinion on which we would welcome. The sale of the hall could raise a significant amount, but a major permanent rebuild on the south side of the Church (joined by the South Door) might take all of that amount and maybe a little more, realizing nothing for the needs of the Church – to finish the reordering (leveling the floor, heating and lighting, internal painting and a permanent font) as suggested in our vision document.
Option Four: Sell and Rebuild in the Church Grounds with a modular building
The process of selling is the same as Option Three – aim to get as much money as we possibly can for the Hall site. I initially was quite skeptical about a modular building: I originally thought of Portakabins. I was then involved with the implementation of the Elson, Forton & Hardway Children’s Centre which will be a modular building. This is a building which costs a fraction of a permanent building and has a life of fifty to sixty years! I was astounded that a building of such quality and durability can actually be so permanent.
The advantage of this solution is that it can be built considerably cheaper, thus realizing money to complete the reordering of the church. This also means that we can provide a better community provision within Elson, within walking distance of the centre of the community and a focus for church and community life. It had been thought or rumoured that previous attempts to do this were prevented over parking issues, but the documentary evidence suggests this is not the case. If we place the hall by the church then we can fully integrate the church and community – moving seamlessly from one to the other after Mass, in Sunday School and Youth Work, Mother’s Union and many other kinds of mission and outreach as well as providing a better home for all the other groups which hire our hall.
The future is always a difficult thing to consider, and the decisions we make now will be our legacy for future generations. We have achieved so much with the reordering of the Church and it would seem logical to complete this work with the available resources we have.
Across the Diocese, the second phase of the Kairos process is encouraging churches to ask serious questions about their buildings, and are providing a great deal of resources and advice on just the kind of thing we need to be thinking about. We are the owners of that whole site, and the Uniformed Organisations are our tenants. We have finally found the documents which confirm the agreement between the Scouts and the Rev. Drake in the 1960s.
We need to be praying about all this: Seek the Lord’s guidance and then share it with us. There should be no excuse for the people of this parish not having a contribution to this debate and no-one, either inside the church or in the wider community.
Are there any other options? If you can think of one, then please let me know. We face challenging times, and we in the parish need to find creative solutions for our problems. We cannot hide away from them, but in a spirit of openness, I want your advice on this one.