Sir Tom Finney's favourite Preston church is spared from the bulldozers by an African-based firm

Sir Tom Finney's family church has been rescued from demolition after an 18-month wrangle over redevelopment.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 10:12 am
Emmanuel Church is to be brought back to life seven years after it was condemned.
Emmanuel Church is to be brought back to life seven years after it was condemned.

Emmanuel Church in Preston had looked doomed after it was closed in 2014 and declared in danger of collapse.

But plans lodged in April 2020 to restore it and create a building shared between religion and housing have finally been approved by the city council.

Consolidated African Ventures UK Ltd (CAV), which has links to both Preston and Zimbabwe, is keen to create 14 apartments in part of the 150-year-old building, while providing a worship area in the remainder - bringing the church back to life.

Sir Tom and Lady Elsie on their wedding day at Emmanuel in 1945.

The news will come as a welcome relief for the congregation of Emmanuel in Brook Street who have been meeting for the last seven years in the Plungington Community Centre next door.

The Grade II listed church, where Sir Tom and his bride Elsie were married in 1945 and both his children were baptised, has stood empty and forlorn since experts closed it down due to its precarious state. Dry rot was discovered in multiple areas and it was declared a no-go area, even for the vicar.

A report to the planning committee in 2020 said: "The condition of the building is poor and deteriorating further. A new use is being sought for part of the building to ensure its repair and survival."

Surveyors have estimated it could cost up to £500,000 to bring the building back into use. But CAV revealed their plans to keep it alive last year with an unusual mix of religion and residence.

The church's 1960s addition which was declared 'hideously ugly.'

The plans involve demolition of the glass porch entrance added in 1963 which has been described by archaeologists as "hideously ugly" and "staggeringly insensitive."

A single storey extension will be built on the opposite end of the church to provide a new entrance for worshippers.

The new owners have pledged not to alter much of the historic fabric of the building both inside and out, although some original artefacts including the high altar, the organ, a brass eagle and various crosses, candlesticks, vessels and book rests have been removed and are now either in diocesan storage or have been transferred to other churches.

The "iconic" cross on top of the church tower is to be re-lit to illuminate the Preston skyline as it did from the 1960s through to 2011 when it developed a fault and was switched off due to the high cost of repair.

The church is in an acute state of disrepair.

The 18-month delay in granting planning permission was caused by concerns that the original application in 2020 did not include enough detail about heritage issues. There was also a concern that the area being retained for worship was too small.

Revised plans were subsequently produced and they have now been approved by planning officers.