Saturday, 19 June 2021

Disused church to be sold for development

PLANS for the future of Highmoor Church will be made by Easter-but it will no longer be used for worship.

PLANS for the future of Highmoor Church will be made by Easter-but it will no longer be used for worship.

The grade two building, which dates back to 1859, has been advertised as a ‘development property’ by Oxford consultant Smiths Gore, who confirmed this week that a number of offers had been made through sealed bid.

It was closed for worship seven months ago after numbers dropped to just one parishioner attending services.

Offers were subsequently invited for the freehold of the church, which is enclosed by flint and brick walls of the old churchyard.

The last recorded burial at the church was in 1991, but families will still have the right to visit graves in the grounds.

Inside the flint and brick church, which was designed by Joseph Morris, is an organ, a war and other memorials and a small bellcote and bell over the west door and porch.

The church was built as a Chapel of Ease by the vicar of Rotherfield Peppard to cater for the wider rural population of the parish.

Highmoor perish clerk Claire Dunk said: “There has been a flourish of interest which is why it went to sealed bids.

“There have been hardly any services at the church for a long time as there were not any people that went to them. It is a bit of a lost cause.

“Subject to planning permission, the Diocese will probably be quite happy for the church to be converted to private residences.”

Rev Brendan Bailey said that he was sad to see the church shut in July.

He said: “There were not enough parishioners.

“We were getting down to perhaps one person coming for services.

“It has been running at a loss for probably the last eight or nine years and it has simply got to the stage where the lack of interest in the church from the people in the community meant that it was unrealistic and unnecessary to keep it.

“I think you could speculate for ages on the reasons- Highmoor is quite a small community and other than the church, the shop, the pub and originally the school, there is no real centre to it.

“The village was originally an extension of Rotherfield Greys and parts of Nettlebed and it has historically always been a bit stuck in the middle.

“In the 14 years that I have been around the village pub, the Dog and Duck has been closed more times than it has been open.

“I can see real heart in Henley, Nettlebed and Bix, but there if there is no sense of focus to a community it is hard for it to thrive.”

Mr Bailey said that turning the church into a house would be the least preferable option.

He added: “The way the process works is that there is a hierarchy of things that the church can be used for, and the church authorities are given a firm list of the things that they would like to happen.

“The first is for another church group to take in on, the next is for another faith group to use is, then for it to be a community use of some kind.

“If it is not possible for it to be used as a hall then it can become a gallery.

“It is only if things cannot be achieved that residential use becomes a possibility but it is a shame if a building that has been used for worship is no longer used for that purpose.

“It would need a lot of work, and at the moment there is no running water. Nothing much has been done to the structure for a good number of years.

“I have not heard anything officially but I did hear that offers were in the region of £400,000.”

Harry St John, of Smiths Gore, said: “We have received a hell of a lot of offers and we are now at the interview stage.

“It will be a while yet before anybody is finally selected- I do not think our clients will have made their mind up before Easter.

“A variety of offers have been received and are under consideration. It has been a church for a long time and the Diocese is not going to rush into any decision lightly.

“The church as it stands has not got planning consent for anything so the sale is subject to planning permission.”

Mr St John admitted that a community base was the least likely option for the church, adding: “The community has already said they have not got any use for that.

“It will either be residential, commercial or a mix.”

When asked about how much the church would be sold for, Mr St John said: “It is very difficult to value something that has not got planning consent. Once that is granted then it will have a value.”

Inside the flint and brick church, which was designed by Joseph Morris, is an organ, a war and other memorials and a small bellcote and bell over the west door and porch.

The church was built as a Chapel of Ease by the vicar of Rotherfield Peppard to cater for the wider rural population of the parish.

Highmoor perish clerk Claire Dunk said: “There has been a flourish of interest which is why it went to sealed bids.

“There have been hardly any services at the church for a long time as there were not any people that went to them. It is a bit of a lost cause.

“Subject to planning permission, the Diocese will probably be quite happy for the church to be converted to private residences.”

Rev Brendan Bailey said that he was sad to see the church shut in July.

He said: “There were not enough parishioners.

“We were getting down to perhaps one person coming for services.

“It has been running at a loss for probably the last eight or nine years and it has simply got to the stage where the lack of interest in the church from the people in the community meant that it was unrealistic and unnecessary to keep it.

“I think you could speculate for ages on the reasons- Highmoor is quite a small community and other than the church, the shop, the pub and originally the school, there is no real centre to it.

“The village was originally an extension of Rotherfield Greys and parts of Nettlebed and it has historically always been a bit stuck in the middle.

“In the 14 years that I have been around the village pub, the Dog and Duck has been closed more times than it has been open.

“I can see real heart in Henley, Nettlebed and Bix, but there if there is no sense of focus to a community it is hard for it to thrive.”

Mr Bailey said that turning the church into a house would be the least preferable option.

He added: “The way the process works is that there is a hierarchy of things that the church can be used for, and the church authorities are given a firm list of the things that they would like to happen.

“The first is for another church group to take in on, the next is for another faith group to use is, then for it to be a community use of some kind.

“If it is not possible for it to be used as a hall then it can become a gallery.

“It is only if things cannot be achieved that residential use becomes a possibility but it is a shame if a building that has been used for worship is no longer used for that purpose.

“It would need a lot of work, and at the moment there is no running water. Nothing much has been done to the structure for a good number of years.

“I have not heard anything officially but I did hear that offers were in the region of £400,000.”

Harry St John, of Smiths Gore, said: “We have received a hell of a lot of offers and we are now at the interview stage.

“It will be a while yet before anybody is finally selected- I do not think our clients will have made their mind up before Easter.

“A variety of offers have been received and are under consideration. It has been a church for a long time and the Diocese is not going to rush into any decision lightly.

“The church as it stands has not got planning consent for anything so the sale is subject to planning permission.”

Mr St John admitted that a community base was the least likely option for the church, adding: “The community has already said they have not got any use for that.

“It will either be residential, commercial or a mix.”

When asked about how much the church would be sold for, Mr St John said: “It is very difficult to value something that has not got planning consent. Once that is granted then it will have a value.”

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