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Disused Headcorn Methodist church up for auction again, but Heart of Headcorn has a plan to save it

There's both good and bad news for villagers campaigning to retain a disused Methodist Church for the community.

The good news is that Headcorn Parish Council has voted unanimously to back the campaign and significantly has decided to ask the villagers' permission to take out a public works loan to help the campaigners purchase the church.

Villagers gather in dismay outside the church after hearing abut the renewed auction bid
Villagers gather in dismay outside the church after hearing abut the renewed auction bid

The bad news is that the Methodist church authorities, having succeeded in persuading Maidstone Borough Council to withdraw its earlier listing of the building as a community asset, have now once again put the church up for sale at auction.

It is listed as Lot 99 on the Clive Emson online auction scheduled to take place on February 9, with a guide price of £130,000 to £135,000.

It has now become something of a race against time for the campaigners.

The parish council has a legal process to go through, which will include taking a poll of voters, before it can authorise the loan.

No date is yet set for the poll.

The church is up for auction - again
The church is up for auction - again

Bella Mansfield, a spokesman for Heart Of Headcorn, the campaign group, said they were investigating ways of arranging a bridging loan, so that they could bid at the auction even if the parish council money were not yet available.

They are also seeking to have the property once again withdrawn from the auction by making a second application to Maidstone council to have the church listed as a community asset.

This time they have secured the help of a property specialist Gregory Jones QC - thanks to an anonymous donation - to argue the village's case.

The application was submitted last Tuesday, and a response is expected this week.

Ms Mansfield said: "Those who are feeling nauseous at the re-appearance of the auction sign should know that a great deal has been going on behind the scenes."

The interior of the church - as it used to be
The interior of the church - as it used to be

She said: "Since Christmas Eve, we've been preparing our new application to Maidstone Borough Council for a community asset listing and our QC is very confident of his arguments.

"We would like to thank the anonymous donor who has made it possible for us to fund this and any future legal action that may be necessary.

"We are also tremendously grateful to Headcorn Parish Council for the action they are taking and for the support given to us at the meeting by borough councillor Martin Round and KCC councillor Shellina Prendergast."

She said: "It's deeply frustrating that all sides have been forced to do a years worth of complex paperwork, suffer enormous stress and spend tens of thousands on legal fees rather than the common sense solution of us just sitting round the table with the Methodist Church - with a cup of tea - and making them a decent offer based on an independent valuation.

"We hope that Maidstone Borough Council will therefore make the right decision this time and free the Methodist Church to negotiate with us for the public benefit, in accordance with their charitable objectives."

The former Methodist church in Headcorn
The former Methodist church in Headcorn

The church, which is in a prime position in the village centre, was built in 1867. The Methodists decided to sell after the congregation shrunk to just 12 people. They said under charity law they were obliged to obtain the best possible price, which is what an auction sale would achieve.

The church was previously listed for auction on September 22, but was withdrawn after Maidstone council at first gave a community asset listing to part of the building. That was withdrawn by the council at Christmas.

The Heart of Headcorn wants to use the building for three projects, a Headcorn Museum, a community college and an "oasis" - "a mindfulness space for counselling, reflection and meditation/prayer for people of all faiths and none."

The group has been raising its own funds towards the purchase with a series of village activities.

Donations to the cause can be made via a GoFundMe page here.

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