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Kent villagers resist demolition of mission church

13 October 2023

Tin tabernacle is a local landmark, neighbours say

A Church Near You

St Gabriel’s, a 1930s temporary building known as a “tin tabernacle”, in Rough Common, Canterbury

St Gabriel’s, a 1930s temporary building known as a “tin tabernacle”, in Rough Common, Canterbury

A KENT PCC’s intention of demolishing a semi-derelict mission church in the parish has outraged its neighbours.

The PCC of St Michael and All Angels, Harbledown, has said that replacing the 1930s corrugated-iron St Gabriel’s with a three-bedroom house will provide a necessary contribution to parish funds. It has been unable to meet its parish share for some time, and currently faces a request for £74,000.

But residents of the hamlet of Rough Common, where St Gabriel’s stands, have said that the planned house would be an over-development. In a letter of objection to the planning authority, one neighbour, Simon Triggs, wrote: “St Gabriel’s is a local landmark with historic value. It should not be demolished and forgotten. Any proposed build should be designed with relevance to the prior building to ensure that this is not lost, rather than simply build the biggest house possible on such a small plot.”

Diane Guest, who lives across the road from the church, wrote: “This will be a loss of a community facility for financial gain. How will those funds be reinvested back into the village and community?”

The original planning application was rejected by Canterbury City Council in November 2022, on the grounds that it was a loss of a community asset. But the PCC has since appealed. Its planning consultant, Birketts, describes the opposition as a “standard NIMBY objection”.

St Gabriel’s was built to serve a pre-war community of agricultural workers, but is now surrounded by suburban sprawl. It is described as having no foundations, heating, lavatories, or running water, and as damp and structurally unsound. It was last used for worship in March 2020, when it had four regular members of the congregation for its twice-monthly services.

In a submission to the appeal, to be heard later this year, the Rector of Harbledown, the Revd Peter Harnden, said that two of the worshippers had since died.

Mr Harnden told KentOnline: “While I agree there is emotional value, it is a building which is nothing more than a wooden frame and metal walls. If people in Rough Common really wanted to keep it open, they would have done something. We have to be pragmatic.”

He continued: “As a parish, we are being asked to pay £69,000 per year to the diocese of Canterbury. Next year, they’re asking for £74,000, and we just can’t afford it. For parishes like ours, there’s a very bleak future — there’s going to be some closures, some amalgamations of churches. And we can’t afford to reopen St Gabriel’s. If there were 40 people attending it, maybe it would be viable. We thought of using the building as parish offices, or a nursery, but there isn’t enough room.

“We’re conscious of the fact that we don’t want it to become an eyesore, but we don’t have the money to repair it. It is sad when any place of worship ceases to be needed for worship, but we have to recognise that we are living in the age which has been called by some a post-Christian age. A building is nothing without its people.”

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