St Thomas Church Day Centre, Finchfield

St Thomas’ Church in Finchfield (near Lidl) has been derelict for 17 years.

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Finchfield Community Association, led by chair Liz Milner (sp?) are a group of local people hoping to bring the building back into use as a community centre of sorts. They are a micro organisation and this is a major project! The building is currently owned by property developer who wants £195K for it.

The project idea came about after the CA held a community open day. Local people felt that other heritage buildings in the area had been lost and they wanted to stop this happening again.

The group is exploring ideas around the building, a problem is a long-standing covenant which restricts usage and the group has had problems getting a copy of this. There are lots of references to this and someone has even tried to sell the information to them. The original one was between Church of England and “Lewis Architects” firm. In reality this isn’t a massive issue, but community perception is that it is.

There are lots of complex issues around ownership of the land, multiple plans have been drawn up by architectural companies for a range of usages, including residential use and an extension of for some kind of doctors or vets surgery. Local knowledge says there are several plans that have been drawn up.

There is the possibility of asset transfer as an option, but this may affect the asking price which would stop the group bidding.

Finchfield CA are hoping to focus on potential usages for the building today at Make:Shift.

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There was a suggestion from one of the attendees to contact ‘Locality’ – an org specialising in community asset transfers, who may have funding for feasibility studies and other costs in investigating the project.

Building layout: large area, including several rooms, plus an overgrown garden two and a half times the size of the building. Lidl car park runs down the side of the building and some land has been taken for the car park. There is access to back of the Church from Lidl car park.

Finchfield CA are keen to maximise the use of garden space for community use – lots of volunteers are willing to make this a reality, but local pub and shops also want additional parking as there are issues locally.

Sue Whitehouse talked about possibility setting up a building preservation trust for St Thomas’ Church, funding could then be found for restoration of the building. She also suggested taking volunteers to a venue where this idea has worked to inspire them as people can run out of steam if progress is slow.

CA has seen that this issue has brought the community together, people are starting to get involved across age groups, so the project itself is creating community cohesion.

Members from SCARF made suggestions on running workshops, or using the building as a training centre to aid local community. Residents feel they are short on community spaces in the area and this building would be a real asset.

Suggestion about setting up a Social Enterprise, which could raise money from using the building and put this back into the local area.

Several of the session members live in Finchfield and would like to see something done with it – echoing the CA’s thoughts.

The group needed to investigate whether the building is structurally sound before buying as there’s no point buying it if it isn’t safe and this would require a survey. They needed £600 for this and they were able to raise this money very easily by holding a car boot sale and this is now set aside for the survey. They are now focussing on how they can raise additional funds for the potential purchase and restoration of the building.

An early evaluation by specialist Brian Martin showed that there isn’t much structural damage and restoration is a viable option.

There is a very sensitive history surrounding the building, it would appear that the Church of England wanted to prevent the congregation from buying the building and re-using as a rival Church and added the covenant stating the building could only be for single residential use. This has caused a lot of bad feeling within the community, so these issues must be taken into consideration. The congregation still meet at an alternative venue as they have done for the past 16 years.

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Open days have taken place, with gardens cleaned up and the building cleaned and tidied allowing congregation members to visit. However extreme vandalism has occurred and this will take time to clean up. Local people feel very emotional about the building.

Take Aways:

The group is looking for local people of all generations who love and care for the community to help them come up with ideas for what they should use the building for.

They also need support from orgs who can advise them on how to move move forward with their plans to bring this much loved community building back into use.

If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact:

Email: finchfieldca@gmail.com
Website: http://www.finchfieldcommunityassociation.co.uk
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/finchfieldCA
Twitter: @FinchyCA

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