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Reader angry at church plans for sale of allotments

18 January 2019

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A READER with 22 years’ experience has vowed to return her licence over church plans to sell allotments in her village.

The licensed lay minister, Sue Holligan, has accused Winchester diocese of ignoring the people of King’s Somborne, Hampshire, who have used the 2.3-acre site for almost a century. Opponents of the sale have said that the allotments are vital in maintaining community cohesion, and have complained about the apparent lack of communication by the diocese.

Sue HolliganSue Holligan, an opponent of the sale

Last Friday, Mrs Holligan, who has helped to lead services at the village’s Grade II* listed church of St Peter and St Paul, during a two-year interregnum, received an email from the diocese’s head of resource development, the Revd Anthony Smith, formally notifying her of a decision taken by the board of finance seven weeks earlier to press ahead with the sale.

“I have queried why it has taken all this time to let us know,” Mrs Holligan said. “We did make enquiries, but no one ever gave us an answer. We are a parish of 1800, with a church school, but we have been given no support for two years. This is symptomatic of their attitude to the whole idea of communities, particularly rural communities.

“I listened very carefully to what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his New Year message about community, co-operation, and not allowing nastiness to make things difficult. Then, I look at what has been happening in our diocese, and I don’t feel there has been any bridge-building. It shows an unwillingness to recognise that mission is brought about by Christians living the life of Christ.

“As soon as we have a new priest, I shall send Bishop Tim [Dakin] my licence and my blue scarf, as I feel so strongly that love, not money, should underpin the value of the church.”

The diocese has said that, while it recognised the value of the allotments to the local community, the Charities Act required it to act in the best interests of the charity which administers the site. The vote to continue with the sale was unanimous, but on condition that any buyer provides an alternative allotment site.

Mrs Holligan said that, at a meeting on Monday, the PCC of Somborne with Ashley had unanimously agreed that the diocese plan to sell the allotments to a developer was extremely damaging to the community of Somborne and to the church. “They felt that the diocese had made no effort to understand the needs of the people who live here nor of the context of the village church,” she said.

“The most damaging aspect for the PCC is that no one has been prepared to talk to us, or to hear our genuine concerns. Some regular parishioners have already blocked their weekly giving, and congregations are down. The PCC have now appointed a person to look further at this problem and to make a complaint based on the fact that the diocese has failed to adhere to the Code of Good Practice.”

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