Outside the box

St Hilda's Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield (December 2011)

Photo:  Midlands Churchcrawler

I didn’t realise when I first posted an article about St Hilda’s Church, Shiregreen, Sheffield how many of my neighbours I would stir up.

A local resident started a website to campaign for the future of the building – http://sthildas.webs.com/:  the associated petition attracted over three hundred signatures, most of them local.

I did an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield and an article has appeared in the Sheffield Star newspaper.

Local people woke up to the probability that a distinguished local landmark is about to disappear, and those individuals who have a past connection with St Hilda’s were particularly upset that it could disappear.

Since it finally closed for services in 2007, there seems to have been no mention or discussion of its fate in the local media, and I could find no proposal to replace it with any other kind of building.

Local politicians explained, politely but wearily, that the problem had been around for years, and say that they wouldn’t stand in the way of a practical, businesslike scheme to save the building.

Some national amenity societies were encouraging, but their brief is primarily to engage with English Heritage within their guidelines, which are interpreted to the disadvantage of St Hilda’s.

Members of the core group of supporters made contact with the Church Commissioners, who currently still owned the building.

One can’t blame the Church Commissioners for their disinclination to support a redundant building at the expense of the real work of the Church.  It’s a pity, nevertheless, that the situation wasn’t advertised a good deal more loudly in the streets that surround St Hilda’s.

Not everyone loved the building.  One commentator on a web forum said she thought it looked like a factory, which suggests a sanguine view of Sheffield’s industrial architecture.

In the Sheffield Local Studies Library I came across a run of parish magazines from the late 1980s which show exactly how a once thriving parish went downhill.

In April 1988, the month before the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration, the vicar, Father Roger Bellamy, enumerated the previous year’s rites of passage:   baptisms – 11;  confirmations – 0;  marriages – 0;  blessing of a marriage – 1;  funerals – 57.  He noted that fund-raising was “not a great success”.

At the end of 1988 he estimated the active membership of the parish at 42, and expected around ten of those to be “lost”, through age or migration, over the following year.

At the start of 1990 he commented:  “We are facing the realities of our situation:  a small congregation, a largeish building and a remarkable indifference to us from the parish.”

It’s not so much the eleventh hour as after midnight for St Hilda’s, too late – as it turned out – for those of us who live on the spot and care about the building’s existence to audit whether there really were community and commercial needs that it could serve, and to identify any positive, practical proposals to present to the owners and the planners.

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