Campaigning to save the church of St Hilda, Shiregreen, Sheffield (Leslie T Moore, 1938) was a frustrating experience because of the opacity of the Church Commissioners’ processes for the closure and disposal of redundant churches.
Earlier blog-articles record my interest in the subsequent closure of the nearby church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939). Because I formally objected to the proposed demolition I’ve been given far more information about the building than ever we saw about St Hilda’s, and I was invited to make direct representations to the Commissioners’ Pastoral and Church Buildings (Uses & Disposals) Committees.
The condition and location of St Cecilia’s Church presents an intractable dilemma for the parish and the Commissioners.
It’s practically unusable because of the state of the roof and the wiring, yet the parishioners are saddled with the considerable monthly expense of securing and insuring it while trying to maintain the more compact daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux, in which they now worship, at the other end of the parish in Southey Green.
The diocesan authorities fear the expense and disruption of demolishing a building hemmed in by inhabited houses with restricted road access.
Sheffield City Council has made it clear that the only acceptable change of use would be residential, yet the existing building would not adapt well and a replacement apartment block would be uneconomic in an area where substantial three-bedroomed houses sell for £80,000.
For the moment, the Commissioners have referred back the Diocese’s proposals in an attempt to find an alternative use that avoids the punitive cost and disruption of demolition.
Meanwhile, the small combined congregation of St Cecilia’s and St Bernard’s pay an inordinate price because St Cecilia’s is not yet formally redundant – though almost everyone agrees it should be – and St Bernard’s is not yet consecrated as the parish church of the future.
I continue to argue that the secular community around St Cecilia’s has been given insufficient opportunity to work towards an alternative secular practical use for the building, yet the take-up at the two public meetings that were called was disappointing – fifteen people in 2011 and twenty in August this year.
The Church of England hasn’t been able to find a way to dispose of St Cecilia’s Church from within its own resources and procedures.
The building needs a use that takes advantage of its quiet setting and its light, airy interior space, and that can somehow be supported financially.