“I am pleased to be able to report that the next phase of TOCAGs development is underway.
As previously recorded, in May we met with several representatives of Historic England and reached agreement that TOCAG’s potential as an agent of change and the importance of the Old Church warranted support in the form of a grant for a feasibility study. This October we were able to reconvene with Historic England and the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust to agree the following next steps.
- Historic England will provide a grant of up to £5,000 to fund a feasibility study under a Management Agreement under Section 17 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979
- Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust, subject to confirmation by the Directors at the next Board Meeting November 19th, will facilitate the process by receiving and disbursing the grant. The Diocese, as owners, will also be party to the Management Agreement, with terms to be discussed at the Closed Churches Uses Committee meeting on November 21st
- The early draft brief below will be developed, finalised and offered out to tender to any organisation able to independently deliver a costed, detailed and practically deliverable plan for preserving the church as a managed ruin, plus whatever additional enabling scope may be essential pre-requisites to achieving that aim. It is hoped it may be possible to conclude the tendering process in spring 2020.
- TOCAG will administer the feasibility study under the governance and guidance of Historic England and, to that end, will formally convene themselves as Community Action Group, including but not limited to: appointing the roles of Chair, Secretary and Treasurer; defining a constitution and setting up a community group bank account.
- It is hoped that it may be possible to conclude the feasibility study around summer 2020, but timelines can only be speculative at this stage.
This is significant milestone in providing TOCAG and the wider community with a practical basis for securing a long term future for the church. It is worth emphasising that there are no initial constraints on what the options might be, other than they must be deliverable, sustainable and achieve the core purpose of preserving the church site as close to its current condition as possible with public access. We will seek public consultation during or after the study where feedback or choices need to be made.
As TOCAG takes this next step, I warmly invite anyone to nominate themselves and/or any others willing, to a role in the Action Group in the coming year while we conduct this study and shape the church’s future.
The scope of the Feasibility Study is in essence to set out one or more viable and practical options in detail, that can form the basis of a deliverable plan by TOCAG (&/or other stakeholders), on which basis the group can mobilise, plus any dependencies or pre-requisites that would be required to get it off the ground.
This would be achieved by
- Analysing and leveraging existing documentation on the history, condition and potential future of the site
- Conducting site surveys, internally and externally, directly or remotely as required to get a clear view of its current state and challenges.
- Documenting practical advice and recommendations on how to create a suitable management trust/ vehicle for ownership and management (assuming community ownership), or any other viable option e.g. private/public ownership.
- Identifying, engaging and seeking feedback from likely key stakeholders and their perceived ongoing roles/interest/responsibilities in respect of the site (Historic England, Parish Council, EHDC, Herts County Council, Herts BPT, etc)
- Creating a comprehensive funding strategy, detailing realistic sources of funding likely to be available to this site, with what probability and following what pre-requisites
- Detailing specific practical options for bringing the building into any kind of use (Arts, Events, Private gatherings, etc)– with a view to generating revenue (however minimal), or at least and perhaps more significantly, demonstrating community value in order to justify grant money from sources such as National Lottery Community Fund/ National Lottery Heritage Fund, and other similar bodies.
- Producing clear costed works and cost estimates to
- ‘mothball’ – i.e. repair and stabilise the building only – Note a 2014 report puts this at £80,000 over a 15-20 year period but does not explain how this figure was derived.
- Any investments that are recommended as essential to bring the building into use e.g. access, parking, services, storage on site for generators, marquees, cutting back trees to create open areas – enabling running events and easier site maintenance.