Heritage group blasts 'flawed' council plans for historic chapel

Manchester Evening News Politics 2 weeks ago

A heritage group has told town hall bosses it is ‘wholly opposed’ to plans which would see a 16th century chapel no longer operate as a museum.

Stockport council is proposing to strip museum status from the Grade II* listed Chadkirk Chapel as part of its bid to save £150,000 from the service’s budget.

The authority - facing a £10m funding gap next year - estimates that the move, together with the closure of Stockport Museum, would save £40,000 per year.

Council chiefs hope volunteers will continue to run the cafe during the current weekend afternoon opening hours.

A consultation on proposals for the borough’s museums has just come to a close - and the council insists all views and alternative suggestions will be taken on board.

 

But Friends of Chadkirk - a volunteer group which has played a key role in the conservation of the chapel and wider estate for nearly 40 years - has hit out at the way it has been handled.

Chairman John Pengelly says the group is in ‘no position to take on additional responsibilities at the site’ - which is near Romiley - and believes the projected savings will not be realised.

His response on behalf of the volunteers say: “The Friends of Chadkirk believe that the current proposals are flawed.

“They will not deliver overall savings to the council, and place in jeopardy the future of this building community venue.

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“We are more than willing to work with the council to produce a management arrangement that will address the currently perceived difficulties of public access and, in the process, address the cost pressures that the council is experiencing.”

Mr Pengelly says that reducing people’s opportunity to ‘informally view’ the chapel would likely result in fewer choosing it for a wedding venue - or other events -  resulting in lost revenue.

And facilitating a view of the chapel would also cost the council extra money - ‘outweighing’ the saving made from no longer running it as a museum.

The council acquired the church in 1971, under a covenant stipulating it should be used for the benefit of the community.

 

But Mr Pengelly says the consultation’s description of the chapel - one of the oldest religious sites in the borough - as a ‘popular refreshment facility’ is misleading, and suggests it is less historically ‘unique’ than sites the council proposes to retain.

“This is nothing more than crude propaganda and has no place in a document of this type,” his response adds.

He also objects to the consultation’s suggestion that volunteer groups would step in to keep the chapel’s refreshment and toilet facilities open.

Chadkirk Chapel by 'vennardclaire'

“The document sets out no vision or recommendation for what happens to Chadkirk should the museum close, other than a vague resolution to contact volunteer groups to 'see if they are interested'," he states.

“It does make it more difficult to be 'interested' if there is no formal framework or commitment to how future volunteer activity will be supported."

 

The friends group currently holds six community events a year at the chapel - including a well-dressing ceremony.

And Mr Pengelly believes that the loss of the building as a museum could be a step towards it totally closing to the public in the not-too-distant future.

“The council's policy seems to be resting on the Micawber principle that something will turn up.

“Experience indicates that the more likely outcome will be a further reduction in use; further cost-cutting pressures, and ultimately the complete closure of the building to public and community access.”

Fellow Friends of Chadkirk member Peter Labrow, has also spoken of his anger over the proposals - particularly the fact the council would benefit from future wedding income, but no longer be responsible for the chapel's upkeep.

 

He said: “ It’s shameful that Stockport council seems to be trying to wriggle out of its responsibility.

“That’s not just a responsibility to preserving the town’s valuable heritage but also upholding a commitment made to the church when the building was acquired."

However Coun Kate Butler - cabinet member for citizen focus and engagement,  said the council ‘completely and utterly recognised the importance of culture and heritage in people’s lives’.

And she added that the authority was looking to put its heritage assets on ‘the most sustainable footing possible’ in order to provide a ‘long term future’.

 

Coun Butler continued: “What we are trying to do with Chadkirk Chapel sums that up. We don’t want to close it, we are not going to close it, but we need to find a way of making it more sustainable in the long term.”

Peter Ashworth, head of culture and leisure at Stockport council has responded to concerns the chapel may not be granted a 'change of use' allowing it to be primarily used as a venue for weddings and other events.

He said: “We are in the early stages of analysing feedback from the museums consultation exercise.

"Once we have reviewed this, we will be in a position to develop updated proposals.  As part of this process will be considering whether there is likely to be any material change of use of sites and any implications this may have, including planning.”


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