Dear Mr Forryan,
Thank you for your email earlier this week. We are grateful for the constructive engagement from yourself and others, which I hope and pray will lead to greater understanding within the community of the real challenges that are faced and a sense of common purpose in maintaining the heritage whilst opening a future for the building. I have set out below some answers to your questions (written in red), which I hope you will find helpful in what is a complex situation. These answers have been agreed by the Archdeacon of Leicester and the Historic Churches Support Officer for the diocese.
Questions for The Drop in Day at All Saints Church Regarding St Wistan’s Church It is appreciated that this is a “Drop-in Day” session for the Public /Parishioners to express their views and make suggestions. However, it would be more beneficial if the Church were able to officially respond to these concerns on the day.
The Information Exhibition on 22nd May will comprise some information boards setting out the background, history, details of work that is needed to St. Wistan’s and the legalities around the use of church buildings. Members of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) will be present and there will be sign up and comment slips for people to complete if they want to receive updates and share their views on the church building. or to potentially offer their support or skills to explore the future of the building, if appropriate etc. It is hoped that the information provided will indeed answer some initial questions and concerns that people may have but it will be just the beginning of an ongoing process of listening and consultation. It is aimed to replicate something of the information sharing which we and the Borough Council had hoped to stage at the now-postponed St Wistan Festival this summer.
Time is without doubt a key factor in saving the structure of this building. After a number of years with nomaintenance or remedial work being carried out, another winter will cause more damage and possibly movebeyond the time when repairs can be carried out, thus reducing the building to a ruin
Our intention is that we can agree a future for the building that prevents it becoming a ruin. It is true that the PCC has not had the funds to complete the necessary repairs, but (as described below) it has been active in seeking grant funding and it is still possible to repair the building so that it can be used again. Although it has not yet been possible to progress repairs, the building has been subject to weekly visual checks and occasional inspections by the architect.
The following are some key questions, from our members, that we would like to ask and request that the Church respond to them, if possible, in advance of the Drop-In session, or on the day.
1. We understand that the Church does not wish to hold services in this location.
Services have not been possible there for three years and the church has had to be temporarily closed for health and safety reasons. The Parochial Church Council (the trustee body legally responsible for the building) have, throughout that time, been exploring various options for repairing and improving the building but have reluctantly decided that they would ask the Diocese for support in applying to have the building permanently closed for Anglican worship)
Is this a cost saving exercise?
No, this is not primarily about a cost saving exercise, it is about need and sustainability. The small congregation of St Wistan’s has been worshipping at All Saint’s Wigston Magna for the past three years and this has met their worshipping need. The local Parochial Church Council (PCC) is responsible for the maintenance and repair of thetwo closely neighbouring historic church buildings in the parish of Wigston Magna. For the past two years the PCC have been exploring various options for repairing and improving St. Wistan’s but have decided that they would ask the diocese to begin the process of permanently closing St. Wistan’s as a place of worship and focus their limited resources on using and developing All Saints Church as the place of Anglican worship from which to serve this community with hopefully improved facilities in the future. Futhermore, as mentioned above, Anglican Church maintenance is not funded centrally but is dependent upon the local church and local community
2. Can the Church Building be Preserved, or have we gone past this stage?
Although it is in need of significant repairs, subject to the funds being available, it is still possible to repair the building so that it can be used again. It is likely that the building would need some adaption in the future if the use changes.
3. What is the legal responsibility of the Church to maintain the building?
When a PCC finds it is no longer feasible or possible to maintain a church building, there are formal processes around applying for permanent closure as a place of worship and then also for the building being allowed to have a new use. The Information Exhibition will share details of these processes so that people can be reassured that there would be proper consultation. The diocese supports the PCC in the process but cannot override its decisions.
4. If no one will provide funds for the remedial work, would it be possible to remove the roof and make the site a “Controlled Ruin”. In this way we could retain the Spire at a much reduced cost.
This is not an option we would be seeking to pursue. Other statutory bodies such as Historic England and the Borough Council would have a voice in this and their general preference is for alternative and sustainable uses to be found.
5. Why has it taken so many years for remedial work to be considered?
Remedial work, other than making the building and churchyard as secure and safe as possible has not been possible for the reasons given above at point 1. The PCC did, however look at the possibility of interim repair work and had some success in attracting Covid grant funding (as that did not require matched funding from the PCC) but the situation surrounding this is complex. Again, information about this will be provided at the Information Exhibition.
6. Is the Church expecting the public to pay for the work needed to save the building?
Open Anglican churches are managed by local PCCs who do rely on the generosity of church members, donations from the wider public and securing grant funding to maintain and repair the building. However, the PCC isn’t expecting anything but hopes to work with residents, the local Council, community and heritage groups, to explore what the options might be for the building’s future. So, it isn’t yet clear what fundraising (and by whom) might or might not be appropriate. We hope this Information Exhibition will encourage people to sign up if they want to be kept up to date and might be interested in being part of working out what the building’s future will be.
7. If the Diocese will sell the building, would it sell to a specialist property developer?. The old church building could be converted into residential accommodation, largely maintaining the exterior appearance, and perhaps maintaining listed status.
The church building is currently grade II listed and this listing does not depend on whether the church remains open as a place of worship. Church buildings that are no longer needed as places of worship are sometimes sold. When this happens, great care is taken to ensure that the buyer fully understands the particular challenges of caring for a historic building and challenges of adaption whilst preserving the significant historic features. Any changes to the listed building will be subject to planning permission and listed building consent and will therefore need to be done sensitively in order to satisfy the local conservation officer and the Statutory heritage
consultees eg Historic England.
8. Could a limited number of additional residential properties be built close to Church Nook in the area that is not consecrated ground? This would share the costs of providing utilities such as water and drainage for the converted church building and enable vehicular access from Church Nook.
Again, this might be one of the options that the church and community might want to explore together. Expert opinion would be needed to assess whether such a development would be viable and formal public consultation and approval for this new use would need to be gained and this would be subject to Planning Permission (Oadby and Wigston Borough Council) so out of our control.
9. If the church building is sold for alternative use what would happen to the cemetery and existing graves?
If the church building was to be sold, the churchyard may or may not be included in the sale. Either way, there are special rules and regulations to ensure appropriate protection of the graves, and to provide for maintenance of and access to the churchyard, which is only right and proper.
10. Options for community use seem very limited. If not converted for residential accommodation, then the best option would seem to be a “Controlled Ruin” perhaps with seating etc to provide a recreational green space for the Wigston community.
See above for ‘controlled ruin’ comments
11. What would the Diocese consider to be a suitable alternative use for the building?
The diocese is supporting the PCC which is the trustee body for the church building. If an Anglican Church building is closed as a place of worship there is a statutory process to determine the future use of the building. This process ensures that an appropriate future use is found that takes into consideration that it was previously a place of Christian worship and is still a listed historic building. The process includes the right of the public to comment on the proposals for future use before the decision is made. The final decision is made by the Church Commissioners not by the diocese.
12. If money is found to complete remedial work to make the building safe, this would not necessarily make the building usable. Currently there is no fresh water supply or foul drainage to the building. Considering the cost of installing services, would the Diocese consider selling the building with its existing listing?
The Listing Status doesn’t change and the diocese has no say in Listing, this is down to the Secretary of State on the Advice of Historic England. The points raised are amongst the challenges that the current congregation faced when considering how to improve the building and the Information Exhibition will set out some of the ideas for upgrading the facilities that were at that time considered by the PCC to make it more suitable for contemporary worship and community use.
13. Will the Diocese collate all other questions and respond to them?
The PCC will gather all the completed comment slips from the Information Exhibition and will use them in considering the next steps. The slips are also intended to give people the chance to sign up for updates so that they can be kept informed.
Perhaps the Drop-in morning could have a senior person there on the day to answer questions?
The drop-in morning is best described as an Information Exhibition and aims to provide awareness of the issues for the building and invite people to sign up for updates on the building and offer comments. It won’t be an occasion for the answering of detailed questions about individual ideas for development or for alternative uses and is merely a beginning to a process of trying to rally community engagement in working out a future for the building together. Members of the PCC will be present. We would be happy to arrange for you to speak on the phone with a diocesan representative if you wish to.
If there is anything that our Society can help you with, please feel free to ask.
Thank you. We would be glad if members will participate by coming to read the information provided on 22nd May and submitting comments and signing up for updates
Subject: Fwd: Response after the Drop-In session
Hello Revd Trevor Thurston-Smith
I am following up my e-mail dated 31st May 2021 below, requesting a copy of the listed comments / suggestions from the Drop-in / Information Exhibition on the 22nd May at All Saints Church.
I would appreciate a copy of these so I may circulate them to the Society members and to the members of the Group 'Wigston - Remembering the Past'.
As you will appreciate the future of St Wistan's Church is of great interest and we would all like to be kept abreast of development.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Regards Mike Forryan
The Greater Wigston Historical Society / Greater Wigston Heritage Centre
Begin forwarded message:
Subject: Response after the Drop-In session
Sent by e-mail to various recipients
Hello Revd Trevor Thurston-Smith,
I would firstly like to thank you for your detailed response to our questions about the future of St Wistan’s Church Wigston Magna.
I understand that the “Drop In / Information Exhibition” at All Saints Church on Saturday 22nd May generated a number of questions and ideas that were recorded by your good selves.
As mentioned by yourself at the session, all of the questions / ideas will be consolidated and circulated to everyone so that they can be further considered by the local people and other interested parties. I look forward to receiving this communication so that I can update our members and members of the “Wigston Remembering the Past” group.
I also understand that these questions and ideas will be presented to the Church Commissioners at their scheduled meeting in September this year, where they can consider them in their deliberations into the resolution to the issues of St Wistan’s Church.
Time is still against St Wistan’s as another winter without remedial action will without doubt worsen the situation and increase the costs of restoration.
(A M Forryan)
The Greater Wigston Historical Society / Heritage Centre
Subject: RE: Response after the Drop-In session
Thank you very much for your e-mail and for your ongoing interest in St Wistan’s church.
We have now collated and looked at the comments received on the Information Day. We plan to circulate these shortly, but as there are also some ongoing discussions taking place, it would make sense to also include the outcome of these. We hope therefore to be able to circulate an update which will include recent developments within the next couple of weeks.
With all good wishes,