Published: 05:00, 10 April 2022
Villagers fighting to secure a redundant church for community use have achieved a significant victory.
The Heart of Headcorn campaigners have succeeded on their second attempt to have the old Methodist church in Headorn High Street listed by Maidstone council as an Asset of Community Value.
This time the group used the services of a senior planning barrister, Gregory Jones QC, to write the arguments for their case, which convinced the council, and could also have significance for other groups looking to adopt their own local church.
Maidstone council said: "The reason that the building and churchyards meet the criteria for listing is that religious activities in a place of worship can be considered to further the social wellbeing and interests of a local community."
The listing includes the whole site, not just the church building, but also the graveyards to the front and rear.
The ruling prevents the building's owners - the Methodist Church trustees - who have twice previously entered the building for sale at auction - from disposing of the premises without first giving the community six months to raise the necessary funds to buy the property.
Bella Mansfield, a spokesman for Heart of Headcorn, said: "It's fantastic news. The whole village is happy."
The group has already been fundraising for the past 12 months and has collected more than £20,000. For the balance, members are pinning their hopes on a promise of support from Headcorn Parish Council who are aiming to back their campaign with a public works loan towards the purchase price, expected to be in the region of £150,000.
Ms Mansfield said: “We are offering the best price; a sum in excess of several valuations. We hope that the Methodist trustees will now break bread with us so that this tortuous uncertainty can end and this building may once again, serve the whole community, especially those in need.”
To take a out a public works loan, the parish council has first to secure the agreement of the majority of villagers in a parish referendum and the council will meet on April 13 to set a date for when the poll will be held.
The church, which was built in 1867, has been empty since January 2021.
Campaigners want to see it turned into a community centre for clubs and societies; including a youth club, as well as a village museum and 'mindfulness space.'
Ms Mansfield said: “We want to keep our community cohesion; hosting clubs and services which promote intellectual flourishing and help to prevent costly social problems.
"Headcornians feel so rooted at the Methodist site, amidst its beautiful flowers, memorials and precious shared memories.”
Kent County Councillor Shellina Prendergast, ward Borough Councillors Martin Round and Ziggy Trzebinski and the MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, Helen Whately have all voiced their support for the campaign, and the Astor of Hever Trust has chipped in with a donation.
Heart of Headcorn has also achieved further success in having itself officially registered as a charity, which should help with future fund-raising.
The group is currently holding an online Sponsored Singathon - with villagers making a donation to record their musical talents for the enjoyment of their neighbours.
Many contributors - including the famous jazz American singer Rachel Gould who now lives in the village - are simply singing in their kitchens.
Another contributor is Derek Bates, the owner of the village's MTC Taxis
Campaign treasurer Michael Rice said: “The Singathon is proving to be our biggest money-making event yet. It will run until we get every singer in Headcorn!”
You can view their contributions here.
The Methodist Church trustees have not responded to requests for comment.
You can donate to the Heart of Headcorn GoFundMe page here.