The huge Parson Cross municipal housing-estate on the north side of Sheffield dates only from the 1930s, though the place-name – written as “Parson’s Crosse Lane” – goes back at least to 1637.
There are, inevitably, lots of jokes about grumpy clergy.
Because the adjacent Shiregreen community missed out on opportunities to intervene in the plan to demolish the redundant church of St Hilda, I’ve since kept an eye on the disused church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross.
Not far off £400,000 was apparently spent on upgrading St Cecilia’s undercroft as a youth club as recently as the Millennium. Yet demolition has been on the cards since at least 2010.
Early in August I responded to the Church Commissioners’ pianissimo advertisement of a drop-in meeting to discuss the proposed scheme to demolish.
The local residents who turned up vehemently opposed the destruction of St Cecilia’s, though none of them were members of the final congregation of ten that moved out in 2011.
People care deeply about their local parish church even if they don’t darken its doors from one year’s end to the next. The place where their families were baptised, married and taken for their funerals means a great deal.
It’s strange that clergy and active church members have such difficulty attracting new members.
The process of disposing of redundant church buildings is convoluted. The building is vested in the incumbent, and is the responsibility of the parishioners. When the parish can no longer maintain the building, a divided responsibility between the diocese and the Church Commissioners triggers a byzantine legal process with little scope for the secular community to intervene.
It all looks underhand, and it makes local people impotently angry.
A diocesan document of 2010 which I’ve quoted in a previous blog-article about St Cecilia’s declared, “The Church building has reached the end of its life.”
Conversely, the Church of England Church Buildings Council in 2011 advised, “The problems are superficial, although investment would be required to rectify them.”
The Statutory Advisory Committee of the Church Buildings Council concluded a few months later that demolition was ill-advised because of the “low cost of essential repair and [the] potential for the cost of long-term repairs to be (part) absorbed into the cost of conversion”.
Yet a Scheme, as it’s called, for demolition is under way.
I wanted to know why demolition was presented as the only option, and I was told that demolition has to be written into Pastoral Schemes in case it may become necessary, but an acceptable scheme to retain the building, backed by planning permission and a credible business plan, would be preferred.
I’d love to see the people of Parson Cross put together a credible proposal for re-use, but to give them a fair chance, they should have been alerted at least three years ago.