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Maidstone council withdraws community asset listing for Headcorn Methodist Church

Campaigners bidding to save their village church have been dealt a blow following a council U-turn.

Maidstone council had been intending to list part of Headcorn’s now-redundant Methodist Church as a community asset, giving locals an opportunity to buy it and protect it from development.

The Headcorn Methodist Church, now empty
The Headcorn Methodist Church, now empty

The Heart of Headcorn Community Group has been busy fundraising ever since September when the decision was announced.

But now they have learned the authority is to reverse its position following a review.

The community asset listing, which applied only to the schoolroom at the rear of the premises, caused the Methodist Church trustees who own the building to withdraw it from a planned auction sale and gave campaigners six months to raise the purchase price.

But while villagers have raised £20,000 through events that included a mega raffle, the Headcorn History Show, a Monty Python-style village Silly Walk and an online Christmas shop, the church trustees meanwhile appealed against the listing.

Just before Christmas, the council's director of regeneration and place, William Cornall, announced the result of his review of the earlier decision. He accepted the argument put forward by the church trustees that the building could not be listed in part only, and accepted the argument that the schoolroom was an integral part of the whole building.

William Cornall
William Cornall

He said: "I conclude the building is clearly interconnected and homogenous, a single entity and as such the church room cannot function independently of the school room, kitchen and toilets."

The listing was removed.

Tim Thomas, the chairman of the Heart of Headcorn, said: "There were several funding possibilities open to us - only last week, for example, we were talking to the National Lottery - but these routes slam shut every time the building is threatened.”

The Heart of Headcorn wants to convert the church, which dates from 1867, into a Community Centre encompassing an Education Space, Mindfulness Hub, Museum, Sustainability Centre, Youth Club and Food Bank.

Villagers on stage for the fund-raising Headcorn History Show in October
Villagers on stage for the fund-raising Headcorn History Show in October

Mr Thomas said: "Many of us studied in the schoolroom, overseen by dedicated volunteers like Elizabeth Hall. The church helped to feed and clothe the poor and would take all of us children on a bus down to Dymchurch - we would never have seen the sea otherwise. Over the years, the building has helped so many people”.

The news of the removal of the community asset listing has come as a particularly hard blow at a time when lockdown restrictions make fund-raising events more difficult, but campaign spokesman Bella Mansfield said: “If anybody thinks that we would fight this hard, for this long, then just give up, they are very much mistaken.

"This building that was built with so much love, devotion and hard work, must continue to serve the community, as its creators intended”.

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