Neighbours ask church to save Faithspace

Published on: 08 Jan 2016

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AROUND 100 people turned out on a cold December Sunday to show their love for a cherished community building by covering it with hearts.

Faithspace, a former church in Stackpool Road, Southville, has been boarded up for a year while its owners, the Methodist church, decide what to do with it.

Until it closed, it was a busy venue for community groups, classes, dance events and activities of all kinds.

It is due to be put up for sale at the end of January. It has a covenant stating it must be used for educational or faith purposes.

But residents are worried that with property prices rising so fast in the area, a developer might gamble on overturning the covenant, and so make an unbeatable offer for the building.

“Our biggest concern is that a developer may buy it and sit on it, not doing anything with it for years,” said Lynda Keeys, one of the campaigners.

“We are doing this to put pressure on the council and on the church.”

Campaigners fear that the Methodist church will claim it is obliged, as a charity, to take the highest bid for the building – which could price out any community bidders.

Parents, children, councillors and others crowded round the building to stick their heart-shaped pieces of paper to the shuttered windows. Each heart had a message saying what they wanted to see there, or what they were missing, from dance classes to nursery sessions.

Matthew Symonds, chair of Southville Community Development Association, which runs the Southville Centre next door to the church, is convinced that the needs of the community should be given priority.

“We have 250 families on our waiting list for nursery places at the Southville Centre,” he said. “This building happens to be very close to us but there are other community groups too which come to us wanting space.”

Among the groups which could use Faithspace are the Gathering Voices music group, GPs, and the Russian Orthodox Church, which is interested in buying the church, and letting out the halls and meeting rooms to community groups.

The shortage of community facilities has come about because Southville’s population is rising – up 20 per cent between 2002 and 2012 – and because several community buildings have been turned into housing.

East Street Methodist church, Merrywood gospel hall, St Paul’s church hall, Balfour Road scout hut, and the Gala bingo hall have all been lost to housing in recent years, said Mr Symonds.

Stephen Clarke, Green councillor for Southville, asked mayor George Ferguson to put his backing behind the campaign at December’s full council meeting. Mr Ferguson said he would ask council officials to talk to the church and its agents.

Cllr Clarke said it was vital that Southville had enough public venues to keep it a thriving community. Supporters are being urged to attend the next full council meeting at @Bristol on January 19 at 6pm.

The Methodist church confirmed it would be putting the building up for sale. 

But it did not say if it would sell to the highest bidder, or if it would look favourably on a community bid.

 

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