An offer has been made to buy a 122 year-old Cardiff church, with plans to convert the building into offices and a training room.
St Paul’s in Grangetown, acknowledged as one of the finest Victorian churches in Cardiff, has substantial damp damage, a leaking roof and needs to be rewired and glazed. The 70-strong congregation cannot afford the £1.4m worth of repairs and decided the church should be put on the market three years ago for the asking price of £300,000.
The parish needs the capital from the sale to carry out its plans to extend the church’s community hall and make it into a worship space.
Father Ben Andrews, the associate priest at St Paul’s, said: “We hoped someone with money would come along and repair the church but allow us to continue services here. But we put it on the market at exactly the wrong time for that.”
“Grants are scarce and have been cut. Heritage grants are drying up because of the Olympics, and because St Paul’s is only Grade II-listed it is bottom of the pile in grant considerations.
“It’s a huge wrench for the congregation. Nobody wants to leave. St Paul’s is an icon of the community. But the building is a constant drain and a constant worry. I’m impressed with the way people have embraced the move, it’s upsetting but the building has held us back and detracted from what we are trying to do as a parish.”
A planning application to build an entrance at the front of the community hall and extend into a garage at its rear has been submitted and the parish hopes to have it passed by Easter. The hall is popular with community groups.
“It is in use every day of the week,” said Father Ben. “Eventually we plan to use a portion of the hall for worship but it will remain a community hall that just happen to be used for worship too.
“We put a lot of effort into our business plan and consulted with the community groups who use the hall. The new building will be cheaper, environmentally friendly, and efficient. Our architects, Gordon Clarke, have been very imaginative in designing a new space to meet the needs of today and the future.”
Father Ben, 37, has been priest at St Paul’s for seven years. He announced on Sunday he is leaving Grangetown to take up a position in Barry.
The church has suffered from numerous problem throughout his tenure. It has been unusable in winter since the heating system’s copper gaspipes were stolen two years ago. The floor has buckled as it has sunk into the marshland it was built on. And the drain-catches hang dangerously off the outside walls.
But tall, elegant and boasting a large unbroken internal space, the Seddon & Carter design of 1888 has historical merit too being one of the first concrete churches and work of famous Victorian architect John Coates Carter. The church also features in an episode of the first series of Dr Who, as a wedding scene was filmed there.
Father Ben, the new face of the police’s anti-metal theft campaign, said: “It will be sad to go. I’m now baptizing the children of people I married here in St Paul’s. I’ve formed links with the people here. But at least our efforts with the new building will ensure the future of this strong and vibrant parish will be served.”
The Church in Wales estimates that £70m is needed over the next five years to repair and maintain nearly 1,000 churches which are listed as having historic value and which attract more than two million visitors each year.
Alex Glanville, head of Property Services for the Church in Wales, said, “Places of worship are a vital part of our nation’s heritage. They are the focus of spiritual life and for key life events, such as weddings and funerals. They are also the repositories of great art and they tell the story of the lives of people in Wales.
“But while they are national assets, they are cared for and paid for by dedicated volunteers who do all they can to keep them open. It can be a huge burden, particularly as many of the Victorian buildings are now at an age when they are starting to need much more attention and their congregations may be smaller than they were when the churches were first built.
“We encourage churches to look at the resources they have got and explore new and imaginative ways in which they can serve the whole community. We are also urging the Assembly to support grant schemes that will help local groups preserve their heritage and maintain an important community facility.”
Lynda Thorne, former Grangetown councilor of 18 years and Labour candidate in the coming May elections, said: “It’s sad and surprising that the Church In Wales is not trying to find a way around it. It is sad the number of churches are decreasing, they are important and selling St Paul’s will diminish Grangetown’s local identity.”