Parish council considers £1m church building for community centre

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Hawkhurst Parish Council is considering meeting the £1m asking price for an old church with a view to converting it into a new village community centre.

All Saints’ church in Highgate Hill has been derelict for over a decade, but only came on to the market last week after the owners finally secured planning permission to turn it into residential apartments.

The current community centre, Copt Hall, is falling into disrepair, and the provision of an alternative facility is at the heart of Hawkhurst’s neighbourhood plan.

Council chairman Peter Dartnell said: “We had a meeting with the owner last week which was very positive.

“It’s been empty for the last 15 years or so, but this was a first chance to have a good look at it now it’s on the market.

“It has planning permission for seven apartments, and it’s right in the middle of the village.
“We would need to weatherproof it, then work on developing it, but it would be ideal for a community centre. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

In terms of financing the project, lottery grants and local benefactors are among the options being considered, but the bulk of funding would come from the sale of the Copt Hall site.

Mr Dartnell said: “We have planning permission to demolish it and redevelop it for housing. The plan has always been to use the funds from that for a new community centre or village hall.”

The council previously had planning permission to build a two-storey community centre on the site of the sports pavilion on The Moor, but this expired in May, owing in part to the council’s inability to embark on private fundraising.

The Hawkhurst Community Trust was subsequently tasked with the responsibility of providing the village with a new community facility.

The appointment of a team of trustees with fund-raising experience to lead the charity and secure the money needed is currently under way.

There has been some debate over whether the parish council or the trust should have control over the design of the project, but at a council meeting this month, it was agreed that ‘the new trustees should own the design of the new village hall, pay for the design of the new village hall and appoint the architect’.

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