THE Old Deanery, Wells, is under offer from private developers, the diocese of Bath & Wells has confirmed, despite a campaign by local residents for it to be used for the benefit of the community.
The Old Deanery, which is on the Cathedral Green, has been vacant since the diocesan office moved to modern premises last month (News, 29 June 2018). The 15th-century house, outbuildings, and 16th-century herb garden were put on the market a year ago The diocese has recently accepted an undisclosed offer from a private developer.
The Save the Old Deanery campaign was set up to prevent the conversion of the property into a private house or boutique hotel that would be closed to the general public.
The campaigners includes representatives of Wells City Council, the Wells Heritage Partnership, and the Conservative MP for Wells, James Heappey. They are asking the diocese to consider their offer of a “substantial cash price” to turn the buildings and garden into an art gallery or museum with a restaurant, café, and shop.
The partnership, it says, would be valuable not only to the community, but to the diocese, which would benefit from a share in the future profits. Its website argues: “After the terrible social and economic impact of Covid, this hub would not just be an important new tourist destination, it would also give a huge boost to local businesses, create jobs for local people and provide facilities for vibrant local activities of all kinds.”
The group has set up a community-interest company (Old Deanery Project CIC); found a local heritage developer to refurbish the building, develop the outbuildings into residences, and provide the necessary immediate funds to buy it; and has raised seed funding from a national institution.
JASON BRYANTCampaigners and community supporters unfurl a banner protesting against the sale, on Monday
Its negotiations with the diocese have been unsuccessful, however.
A spokesperson for the diocese said on Tuesday: “The Old Deanery is now under offer, after being on the market for a lengthy period. We considered all the offers we received very carefully, as we have a duty of care to ensure that the sale will benefit both the mission and ministry of the Church, and the people of Somerset whom we serve.
“As with all dioceses, Covid-19 has severely affected diocesan finances, and is likely to continue to do so, as it is to so many individuals and families, companies, and charities. We are enormously grateful to those who have still been contributing to their churches, and to the diocese, despite the devastating impact of the virus.”
A spokesman for Save the Old Deanery said on Thursday that there was still hope, however, because the buildings were under offer, and had not yet been sold.
“We believe that the diocese should consider our cash bid to buy the Old Deanery, Wells taking account of our substantial cash offer, of the heritage importance of the building, of the views of the Wells community. The Diocese owes all of these a duty to work together, not to extract the highest price it can get from a private property developer.”
On Monday, campaigners and community supporters unfurled a banner protesting against the sale.