It has been a long time since our last update on the Old Church.
Almost exactly this time a year ago we were preparing to finalise a feasibility study brief for tendering and submission to Historic England for funding. As a reminder, the aims of the study are to assess the condition of the tower and costs to minimally maintain or develop it – whilst, equally importantly, getting clarity on funding streams, opportunities and ideas for use potential management structures.
This is critical in defining a practical plan which TOCAG, with your help, could deliver to give the church a long-term independent future.
Regrettably, the circumstances arising from the pandemic prevented Historic England making progress with the study last year and so TOCAG have been in a holding position.
The good news is that this week Historic England have now been able to approve a final version of the brief, the proposed grant has been moved forward into the 2021/22 financial year, and we are now preparing a list of organisations who we hope will bid for it and, with the prospect of the pandemic receding, carry it out.
If you have any skills, or even simple interest, in being part of assessing, reviewing, overseeing, or managing studies or contracts in any way like this, we would love to hear from you.
The not so good news is that the Diocesan Closed Churches Uses Committee (CCUC) wrote to TOCAG and Historic England recently stating that whilst realising that ‘the pandemic has brought difficulties for many organisations’ it was ‘disappointing that the Management Agreement and Brief have not been completed during the last 12 months’ and that in view of the requirement for the CCUC to ‘demonstrate due diligence in its role’, that ‘if no significant progress has been shown by the next CCUC meeting in May 2021, the Diocese will be required to go back to the market.’ i.e. ‘a design brief for residential conversion’
We of course hope and wish that ‘significant progress’ can indeed be made by May, but this serves as a reminder that the threat to the Old Church site has not gone away. If the feasibility study cannot identify a sustainable plan which TOCAG or anyone else are willing and able to deliver, the Diocese are adamant that the site will be sold to whoever will take it for profitable development. There is a point of view that this could never really happen, but I think it likely that going down this road will, sooner or later, lead to the loss of the site as we currently know it, either that site alone, or as thin end of a wedge into developing that part of the valley further.
Coming back to good news, we are delighted that Rev Amanda Duncan has once again agreed to celebrate an outdoor service at the Old Church on 3rd July, and Christopher Melluish has also once again generously offered Thundridge Hill House for parking, logistics and his wonderful gardens for gathering and a picnic afterwards. These are the same gardens that are open through the National Garden Scheme in June , and well worth a visit – see https://ngs.org.uk/view-garden/13819 for details.
After the service, we will share progress, especially we hope with the feasibility study, and get your feedback. The Friends of the River Rib and Quin https://friendsoftherib.wordpress.com/ will also be present. Their mission is to protect the globally extraordinarily rare and threatened chalk stream ecology of the river Rib, and by association the entire valley of which the Old Church is such a historic keystone, which very much gives us common cause and outlook.
Details of the day and timings are not yet confirmed, so I would like to appeal to any of you to come forward with ideas, suggestions, practical help (e.g. musical accompaniment, pa equipment, publicity, marshalling, etc) , or requests for what would make the day as enjoyable and useful as possible for everyone. I would also ask that everyone publicise and get as many people to come as possible.
We will keep everyone informed as this shapes up, and very much hope to see a great turnout and show of support at what may well be an essential time in the attempt to save the church, and perhaps even the last time such an event as this can happen.