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Village given 6 months to save their church

Wednesday, 27 March 2024 08:15

By local democracy reporter, Alison Stephenson

Image: St Petroc Church (Image: Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin)

St Petroc’s could be sold or demolished

Villagers in Petrockstowe, near Hatherleigh, have six months to come up with a viable plan for the parish church before it is put on the open market or demolished.

St Petroc’s closed as a place of worship last year after it had fallen into disrepair and the congregation dwindled.

Work to make it watertight is estimated at £400,000.

Around 60 local residents who attended a village meeting on Saturday were in favour of saving the church for the community, and a working group has been set up to look into grant funding and alternative uses.

Torridge and West Devon’s Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox, who chaired the meeting, is encouraged by the number of residents who turned out.

“It is clear there is a strong desire within the village to find a way to have the church reopened and I have committed to work with the local community in their search for a solution,” he said.

Torridge District Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin (Lib Dem, Shebbear and Langtree), lead member for culture and community engagement, as well as a resident of the village, said: “There has been a church on the site for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Preservation of the building goes beyond religion, and you don’t have to be religious to recognise and appreciate the social history, and have a deep affection for what was for centuries the central hub of the village.

“It is a beautiful historic building and I believe it deserves to be protected and preserved for future generations to admire and enjoy.”

Local heritage adviser Emily Wapshott described it as a large building intended to serve a parish of around 3,000 acres, and said that to see it lost would have “an undoubtedly negative heritage impact to the village and the wider landscape.”

She continued: “Whilst built to serve, it is now closed and languishing empty, with the risk of demolition. This area is sorely lacking in local cultural centres, amenities like post offices, as well as work opportunities for young people. With a newly established working party and bold future vision, this building could be adapted to once again provide for its community.”

When the church was under threat last year, Anglicans and Methodists worked together to form the Petrockstowe Community Church which the meeting was told is “now thriving”.

They worshipped together in the Methodist chapel and numbers had boosted significantly, said churchwarden David French.

The Diocese of Exeter doesn’t receive government funding to look after church buildings and relies on grants or the generosity of donors.

The church closed following widespread public consultation because the parochial church council (PCC) felt it was no longer sustainable in its current form, adding that many attempts had been made to get community support and funding.

“As a charity, we would be delighted if a sustainable future use can be found for St Petroc’s which would benefit the whole community," said the diocese.

“We have agreed to delay wider marketing of the building for a period of six months to give a community group the opportunity to develop a viable project plan.

“We have not asked for £400,000, but have asked that any group which wishes to purchase St Petroc’s can cover the cost of essential repairs to the building.

“We will support the community as far as we are able, in their efforts to preserve this historic building and ensure it remains at the heart of village life for generations to come.”

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