13th June, 2015
To The Revd Kenneth G Howcroft & Ms Gill Dascombe,
President and Vice-President of Methodist Conference 2014-2015
The Closure and Sale of Sturton Street Methodist Chapel and Hall, Cambridge
The community in Petersfield has come together to raise enough money to make an over-asking-price bid of almost £700,000 for the Methodist Chapel and Hall in Sturton Street, Cambridge. Closed at the end of August 2014 due to a declining congregation, the loss of these facilities has already had an impact – the large and spacious Sunday School hall has been in community use for many decades and hosted much-loved activities. Petersfield is very short of community facilities and under heavy development pressure.
We write as a last attempt to persuade the Methodist Church to collaborate on finding a better solution. We believe there is an exceptional moral case for the Methodist Church to seek to enable this much needed aspect of its mission to be continued.
Throughout the last year, the community campaign group, Save Our Space, has been working hard to find a way through this disastrous loss, offering to work alongside the Methodist Organisation in a shared mission of caring for individuals, youth and communities. The Methodist Church has never agreed even to meet to discuss collaborating on a sale, publicly quoting the narrowest possible interpretation of charity law (“sale to the highest bidder”) and insisting on commercial practices. Charity law and Methodist policy offer more, exceptionally allowing sale to permit activities for children and young people (ref.1). The toddler group, youth dance school, the opportunity for nursery provision – these are the main motivation for SOS trustees, the main loss from the closure last August, and the core provision of the proposals. Further, the campaign is, and has always been, open to continuing Christian and Methodist involvement.
The SOS plan, based on comprehensive research into local needs, has been to found a new, inclusive community centre balancing nursery provision with other youth activities and income-generating use for adults as well as working for the vulnerable, isolated and elderly. This extraordinary bid has been made possible by over 400 local households pledging their savings as low-return charitable investment.
The campaign has been outbid by others who we hope have aims which respect the community need and planning use but, given their silence, we must assume do not. SOS is not in a position to compete further; the level of the bid is already a miracle that took a year to achieve.
Local Methodist ministers tell us that nothing so “crude” as money is the concern, but the Circuit plans a major £1.1m rebuild of its buildings in nearby Chesterton, with more community and charitable provision and is clear in its aim to move its resources to that area. Ironically, Chesterton already has the thriving facilities that the young people of Petersfield are further deprived of by this sale.
The valued and needed Sturton Street site now sits closed, dilapidating before our eyes.
We ask you to work with the local community to bring this matter to a better ending, to do more good and to uphold the strong positive reputation which the Methodist Church has long held for its work with the people of Cambridge.
Daniel Zeichner, MP
Cllr Kevin Blencowe
Cllr Ann Sinnott
Cllr Richard Robertson
Cllr Oscar Gillespie (Green Party)
Cllr Tim Bick (Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, City Council)
Professor Sir David King
Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly MD FRS FMedSci
Mrs Mary Sanders MBE Dr Carrie Herbert MBE
Ali Smith CBE FRSL
Peter Carr MRICS (Founder, Standing Start)
Dr Julian Huppert
Allan Brigham MA (Cantab) (Honorary)
Timothy Cox, Professor of Medicine
Trustees, Petersfield Area Community Trust
Members of the Save Our Space Campaign (incl. Directors, Sturton Centre Society Limited)
Beverley Carpenter, Mill Road Society
& other members of the Petersfield Community
Members of the Methodist Congregation including Doris and Viv Blunt (Architectural technician of Sturton St rebuild, 1954) and Kirsty Smith (member of Sturton St congregation).
See references and further information at www.sturton.org