Jubilant church members and councillors are celebrating a lightning speed deal which means the yet to be completed Garstang St Thomas’s church hall could open by the end of the year as a Community Hub for the town.
Wyre Council has now promised to foot the up to £150,000 bill to finish the hall project.
When and if the Wyre Council owned Community and Business Centre off High Street is sold, it has also pledged to redistribute proceeds - it’s not yet clear what proportion - to projects requested by those parishes which comprised the former Garstang Rural District Council - the Centre’s original owner.
The spacious new hall, on land behind the Church Street vicarage could provide a new home for the voluntary groups and dance school now using the Community Centre as well as Garstang Town Council.
Wyre councillors voted to allocate funds to complete the stalled St Thomas’s church hall project as part of its Council tax freezing annual budget last Thursday.
For St Thomas’ vicar the Rev Stephen Grey it is an opportunity to see the dream of a new church hall finally become reality.
For Wyre’s current Conservative councillors it’s a timely solution to a political hot potato ... the need for a new Community Centre following Wyre Council’s decision to sell the current Community and Business Centre off High Street.
At Wyre Council’s budget meeting Council leader Coun. Peter Gibson declared:”I am pleased to announce tonight that we are proposing to fund the completion of St Thomas’s Church Hall in Garstang which will become much more than a Church Hall... it will become a Community Hub and we will have an agreement securing community use.”
He continued: “The current business centre was funded many years ago by all the parishes in the rural east and it is our intention when the business centre is sold to ask these parishes to suggest community projects in their area which we will look to fund.”
The following morning at a special press conference at the hall, Coun Gibson said: “It’s such an important development for Garstang. I would like to thank the three local councillors, Coun Peter Murphy and the vicar for making this happen. This is going to be a community hub.”
It’s thought it could cost some £150,000 to complete work at the hall, Coun Gibson guaranteed that those community groups currently using the Community and Business Centre would be able to relocate to St Thomas’s and: “have the usage of this centre for some years to come...The church has run out of money to finish this off. Wyre Council will be finishing this... Garstang will get this wonderful facility and also parishes will benefit.”
The vicar stressed that simultaneously it would also be a church hall. He said: “The money from Wyre enables us to do the job we want to do. We exist for those outside - it’s for everybody this hall.”
The St Thomas’s Parochial Church Council voted to accept Wyre Council’s funding at its meeting last week.
Rev Grey said: “It’s a coming together of minds.”
The new hall boasts ten rooms - the largest - a very large hall can be split into four sound-proofed rooms. It is hoped to provide additional parking around the hall with parking places also available on the nearby church car park.
He said that the church had had a “very sticky time” getting planning permission for the old hall and in that time it had built relationships with the council: “There’s lots of bridges to be built. I think we’ve all come to the common mind that we are here to serve the community.”
Rev. Grey said that any money from the sale of the former church hall- which is on sale with planning permission for housing, will go to pay off the outstanding debts on the new hall project which amount to “the best part of £200,000”
He said: “I don’t think that we are going to feather our nest with all that money. That’s specifically to pay the debt”
He said the help of the diocese had been “absolutely superb” and confirmed that some £100,000 was owed to the diocese for the purchase of the land, formerly part of the vicarage garden, on which the hall is built,
The vicar revealed he had already secured seating and a dance floor for the hall - from the now demolished local hotel The Pickerings when it closed and declared:”My prayer by the end of the year is it will be up and running..I’ll do everything I possibly can. We want this building to be used every night, every bit of the day.”
The press conference was attended by Wyre Council’s Economy Portfolio holder Coun Peter Murphy, Town Mayor Coun Graham Salisbury, local Wyre Councillors Lady Dulcie Atkins, Tom Balmain and Alice Collinson, as well as church and Royal Voluntary Service representatives.
Coun. Collinson said: “I just think it’s a fantastic hall. I think the amenities we had at the Community Centre were getting rather dilapidated and can we burden the next generation with something that unsustainable.?”
Coun Balmain declared: “I believe the existing (Community/Business Centre)building is past its sell-by date. This is an excellent way forward.”
Coun Lady Atkins said: “We’ve a fantastic building here and it’s also helping the church as well.”
The Town Council currently meets at the doomed Community Centre and Coun Salisbury said: “My view is - it’s the first time in the building - it’s a bit of a tardis. Obviously I’ll be going back to the Town Council and passing on what I’ve seen.”
He said the next step would be to get all town councillors to visit the site. He continued: “ I think we need to keep all our options open and this is certainly going to be considered as one of them....it’s ticking a few boxes let’s say.” Mrs Elizabeth Barlow from the Royal Voluntary Service (formerly known as WRVS) which runs a luncheon club in the existing Community Centre, welcomed the announcement but added: “I would think the detail has to be thrashed out yet.”
Churchwarden Jean Sawyer said:”I’m delighted that we can now carry on with the building,”