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Not got a pot to preach in: All Saints Church in Allhallows without toilet and heating as it fights for survival

By Chris Hunter

For a thousand years or more, it has stood as a physical and spiritual centre of community life through good times and bad.

But having withstood war, plague and the worst a millennium could throw at it, could the future of All Saints Church in Allhallows be thrown into jeopardy by a toilet – or to be precise, the lack of one?

The story of All Saints Church is, of course, much bigger and reflects that of the Church of England as a whole – a story of dwindling congregations and the mounting maintenance cost of ancient property; the story of a heavyweight institution crumbling under the weight of its past.

The Rev Stephen Gwilt with parishioners at All Saints Church, Allhallows

But if something isn't done, the church and its parishioners will simply be waiting around for the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back.

So as in any crisis, trivial matters begin to loom large.

"There's not an immediate chance of closure," said the Rev Stephen Gwilt. "I don't want to create a false picture, but ultimately we have to pay our bills.

"If they can't pay my stipend the diocese would have to make a decision on whether they can keep the building.

"A couple of years ago we had a lot of lead theft that cost us about £25,000. The insurance only pays out £5,000, so that's a big ask for a small congregation."

With the church financially dependent on collections, a vicious circle of decline could continue to push it from an increasingly precarious footing.

"A couple of years ago we had a lot of lead theft that cost us about £25,000. The insurance only pays out £5,000, so that's a big ask for a small congregation..." - Rev Stephen Gwilt, All Saints Church

"We don't have a toilet and we don't have adequate heating," added Mr Gwilt.

"It puts people off. In January it's four or five degrees – the same temperature as the average fridge – so it doesn't make it easy.

"On the peninsula there's seven or eight Anglican churches for a small population – we're trying to ensure the church stays open for future generations."

But the story on the Isle of Grain could offer hope for the Church of England across the country.

Firstly, the church is fighting back. The parishes of High Halstow, Allhallows, Stoke, Grain and Hoo St Werburgh have banded together to form the Hoo Peninsula Group Ministry, and All Saints is offering new services, including a charity shop and food bank.

But importantly, the wider community is also fighting with it, setting up the Friends of All Saints Church group and organising the first Allhallows Summer Fete in decades – on Saturday, June 28 – to raise vital funds.

Co-organiser Steve Proud said All Saints Church, parts of which are rumoured to be pre-Norman, was an invaluable historic asset.

"It's seen a lot of things," he said. "We don't want it to close because it's probably one of the oldest buildings in Medway.

"It's important to the community because it's the only church in the village, whether they're religious or not."

Losing the church would leave a hole in the community, added Mr Gwilt.

"Weddings and funerals wouldn't be able to happen there," he said. "It meets the basic social needs of most people at the most important times of their lives."

And speaking of basic needs, if the fundraising works out they might even be able to go to the toilet there too, fingers (and legs) crossed.

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