THE Old Deanery, the 800-year-old office of the diocese of Bath & Wells, on the cathedral green in Wells, is being sold to fund a new purpose-built office elsewhere in the city, the diocese confirmed this week.
More than 50 members of staff are to be moved from the 12th-century building to a new location on the “outskirts” of the city, within two years. It was agreed that this was a “more responsible and sustainable” option than investing in the Old Deanery buildings, which are costly to maintain, for the next ten to 20 years.
The decision was finalised by members of the Bishop’s Council and the trustees of the Diocesan Board of Finance last week. It came after a small working group agreed “in principle” to the move in July last year. The Diocesan Secretary, Nick May, estimated at the time that the Old Deanery would sell for £3 million; the cost of building a new office would amount to £3.5 million.
He said last week: “Despite the rich history of the Old Deanery, its location, and the fondness in which we hold it, the building was not functioning effectively as a modern, welcoming office and meeting space, due to lack of investment. Action needed to be taken.”
A notice from the diocese said that the proceeds from the sale of the site, which includes the adjacent car park, would “offset costs” of the new build. “This capital project will not be funded by parishes through the Parish Share,” it read.
The diocese acknowledged, however, that selling the Old Deanery was still likely to ruffle feathers in the community, because it might put the exterior of the Grade I listed building at risk from developers.
“The diocese fully appreciates the building’s historical significance, and the fondness in which it is held by many local people, as well as staff who work there, and is committed to ensuring any sale is approached and handled sensitively.”
Early plans for the new 16,000-square-foot diocesan offices include meeting rooms, staff work spaces, and a “spacious, openly accessible” area on the ground floor.
Poor disabled access, the limited number and size of meeting rooms, and high repair, maintenance, and running costs of the Old Deanery buildings were given last year as significant reasons for recommending a new-build option.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, said: “This decision has been taken prayerfully so that we might serve those communities more effectively.”
The Old Deanery is not the only listed building in the diocese whose future has been the subject of debate. In 2013, the Church Commissioners proposed to relocate the official residence of the Bishop of Bath & Wells from the historical Old Palace, opposite the Old Deanery on the south side of Wells Cathedral, over concerns for the Bishop’s privacy (News, 31 January 2014).
Its plans to move the Bishop to an £870,000 Rectory in Croscombe, four miles from the city centre, were scrapped the following year, however, after local objections and a parliamentary petition signed by more than 2000 people (News, 2 May 2014).