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Village residents clash with diocese over ‘unchristian’ sale of community centre

28 July 2023


The former primary school in Rathmell, near Settle

The former primary school in Rathmell, near Settle

THE diocese of Leeds has been accused of being “unchristian” for taking the trustees of a village community centre to court over control of a former primary school.

The diocese says that it has a right to the building in the Yorkshire Dales hamlet of Rathmell, near Settle, because the school became a C of E voluntary aided school in the 1950s. But the residents who converted it into a hub for the village, after the school was closed in 2017, say that the site was donated to them by a local landowner more than 200 years ago.

“How do they think this is kind and Christian — a good thing to do?” asked Jacky Frankland, the treasurer of the Rathmell School Trust, which runs the centre. “How is anything they are doing or inflicting on my community — a little village of 300 people, with not even a shop or a street lamp — Christian? I feel like a mouse in front of a juggernaut. It is the devil in disguise, because they are just trampling all over us. It’s disheartening and it’s infuriating. It’s not just a little bit unfair, it’s outrageously unfair, and it’s wrong; they are not having it.”

Both sides have documents that, they say, support their cases. But Mrs Frankland believes that the diocese’s papers relate to other properties in the village, including the former vicarage, which is now a private house.

Talks between the two sides have been taking place since soon after falling pupil numbers forced the school’s closure (News, 27 November 2020). Then, last month, after a 16-month hiatus, the three trustees received papers advising them of an application to the High Court in Leeds to take over the school, neighbouring land, and the former schoolmaster’s house, which is currently rented out to fund the centre.

“We had 14 days to file our response,” Mrs Frankland said. “You could have knocked me down with a feather. We didn’t have a clue what to do; we didn’t even have a solicitor. I have no experience of going to court; the closest I have got is watching Crown Court on the telly.” They have since been granted an extension to 3 August, and have briefed counsel.

The trustees have launched a fund-raising page, gofundme.com/f/78f67y-save-our-site, to cover legal fees. On it, they suggest that the land would “undoubtedly” be sold and redeveloped, “depriving the village of its only community space. That is NOT Christian and it is NOT fair”.

In a statement, the diocese said: “Numerous attempts to resolve this matter have been met with antagonism and so, regrettably, the diocese has been left with no option but to seek clarification in law. This will ensure the issues are fully considered and any proof provided. As this legal process is under way, it is not appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

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