“New Year, new Trinity” says Reverend Garner

Revelations that Holy Trinity Church was added to Heritage England’s ‘at risk’ register took Southport citizens by surprise. Residents were left wondering what this might mean for future of the church. Reporter, Chantelle Heeds finds out more…

img_7262HOLY Trinity Church has stood tall on the corner of Manchester Road since 1837, becoming an iconic landmark to the seaside town of Southport. However, that rich sea air has slowly dissolved the Victorian building causing damages that will cost over half a million pounds to repair.

Rodney George Garner, 67, Reverend of Holy Trinity Church, said: “For unknown reasons, when this church was extended and the huge church tower went up one century ago, the kind of brick that was used, as lovely as it is, is not the most serviceable to withstand the erosion that a building this size faces when being blasted most days of the year with wind and rain and sand. This causes damages to the church.”

News of the building, which is the highest vantage point of Southport, being declared as ‘at risk’ spread across the town in the form of newspaper articles. The news quickly became a cause of concern for Southport residents and many came to Reverend Garner to enquire about what this will mean for the church.

Fortunately, concerned citizens and regular churchgoers need not worry. Holy Trinity Church is being saved.

Reverend Garner explained: “The church is not about to fall down, the idea makes good headlines and sells newspapers, but the fact of the matter is that the church was placed on the register due to a technicality. A technicality that works in the churches favour.

Heritage made a routine visit, as they are required to do, as although the church is a religious building used for worship, it is also a grade II* registered building. This means that it is deemed to be of huge architectural significance and Heritage have to monitor it, just like the church authorities do.

“However, when they saw the amount of work that needed to be done to the building on their last visit, they put it as ‘at risk’ on their register. Not because the church was falling down, but because if there was no programme in hand to address those damages, the building would be in danger. However, the reality is that before they did that, we, at the church, had already started doing our homework and had taken steps to correct it.“

According to Historic England, grade II* registered buildings are defined as “particularly important buildings of more than special interest”.

Only five and a half per cent of an estimated 500,000 registered buildings are considered to be grade II*. Therefore it is important to preserve and maintain these unique buildings.

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Reverend Garner and his colleagues at the church had been planning the repairs for two years before the building was officially declared as being ‘at risk’ by Heritage England. They realised that action needed to be taken was when they received the results from their last quinquennial report (a report that is carried out every five years by a church architect which details the flaws of a church building).

Reverend Garner joked that they “awaited the results whilst trembling with fear” but the report results did contain damages that are expensive to repair.

Once the report was received, Reverend Garner replied with a report which detailed what the church propose to act upon, and the time scale in which they plan to do it in. Reverend Garner added: “It has taken one year for us to consider what we would act upon. The reason for this is because of the cost. Six hundred thousand pounds is how much money is needed and it takes a lot of meetings, phone calls and emails to get that.”

Many of the repairs that the church is currently in need of, have previously been repaired time and time again. A few of these problems are due to the prominence of the building and where it stands in relation to the sea. Gusts of wind and sand regularly blast the building, and the brick used to build the building is not designed to withstand such erosion.

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Photograph: Chantelle Heeds

Therefore as demolishing the 142-foot tall church tower is not considered an option, the building requires frequent repairs and reinforcements, as the foundations of the building are not efficient when considering the environment it is stood within.

However, the current plans for repairs have now been finalised and they are “hoped to secure Holy Trinity Church for at least another generation,” said Reverend Garner.

The funding for the repairs has been granted by Heritage England. According to their website, Heritage England is a charity whose vision is to preserve and maintain historic buildings so that “people will experience the story of England where it really happened.”

Reverend Garner said: “Heritage England will not grant money to anyone who has not demonstrated that they are serious about fundraising. Thus we have got a fabric fund of near ninety thousand pounds at the moment and that will be, depending on how much is called upon, our contribution to the repairs. We have attained that money through fundraising, donations, and legacies from people who have found a help from within the church.”

Heritage also will not release any money for repairs to any building unless it has been demonstrated that the repairs will help and benefit the community,” he added. This links to the other proposed improvements to the church that are to be carried out whilst repairs are under way.

As well as the essential repairs that are needed for the church to remain safe and secure, additional interior plans have been proposed to enhance the experience the church offers to the Southport community.

The church is experiencing many changes this year, such as: improved disabled facilities, toilets, meeting rooms, improved heating, a second floor being built, a lift, meeting rooms, technological advances such as installing Wi-Fi, and more. The purpose of these changes is to appeal to a wider audience and to make visitors feel more comfortable.

Reverend Garner believes that the church has three reasons for being eligible for the funding from Heritage England.

He said: “Firstly, the money will improve the visitor experience as when people come in to see the place, or to pray, the experience of being in here will be better.

“Number two is that we are involved with a lot of arts at Holy Trinity Church as we have a core music tradition. Therefore choirs and orchestras play here regularly and there are going to be around 15-20 concerts taking place in church next year, which will increase footfall.

“And finally, community service, through the developments we are able to extend what we do for the community by making them feel more at ease in church.”

Additionally, as the church is connected to Holy Trinity Primary School it is important that the church meets the pupils’ needs and is deemed safe for use.

Susan Mawdsley, 53, head teacher of Holy Trinity Primary School, said: “We work very closely with our church and the Reverend, as he is chair of governors at our school. We also have a School and Church Award for having such a close relationship with our church. This means that every pupil at our school uses the church at least once and week, with some groups of children using it daily.

“It is really important that the church gets the repairs it desperately needs because of two things. Firstly, the safety of the children is paramount to us as a school so we wouldn’t want children walking past an unsafe building that is part of our land because the children eat their lunches by the church in the summer and walk past it entering and leaving school daily.

“Secondly, it’s a beautiful building that is full of rich symbolism and history and everybody mentions how beautiful and peaceful it is. The children love going into church and it is a big part of their life here at our Christian school and should it fall into disrepair, then school is no longer the place that we want it to be for them.”

When asked about the improvements the church is experiencing to its interior, Susan hastily exclaimed: “The improvements will absolutely benefit the school, especially the Wi-Fi instalment and the meeting spaces. They help because we are very short of meeting spaces in school and it will just mean that church is opened out and is being used more effectively.”

Another development that Susan was particularly excited about was the improved disabled facilities. Although there are currently no pupils at Holy Trinity Primary School suffering from a disability, there are disabled parents who struggle to navigate around the church.

Susan said that disabled parents often struggle to attend weekly assemblies at the church without feeling “alienated and left out”.

Carole Morris, 53, is a disabled parent that often feels alienated when attending the church. Carole suffers from multiple illnesses that include leukaemia, throat cancer, bowel problems, and problems with the bones in her legs. These illnesses mean that it is a struggle for her to get into and around the church. This means that she is often unable to attend the weekly assemblies in church for her son.

Carole is extremely excited for the improvements. She said: “They will mean that I will be able to attend the church more often and they will also mean that if I wasn’t feeling too good, I could have my scooter inside the church at the back. I would be able to take part in the service more, and have more assess to the seating areas, rather than feeling excluded and being left at the back. The improvements to the church will make a very big difference for me.

“I try to attend the church as often as I can, although at the moment that is only once every three weeks.

“The current toilet facilities add to my anxiety about going to the church. For example, the toilets are an issue because I have bowel problems and I will not go out if I am unsure about my tummy.

“The improvements to the toilets in church will make me feel more at ease when attending. Although it is not only me that will benefit, other older people struggle with needing the toilet frequently, as well as young children so I think it will help all church users.”

When asked about how she heard of the damages to Holy Trinity Church, Carole said that the school have been very communicative throughout the process and have kept parents updated.

“I am glad the repairs are happening so soon, because we cannot be without Holy Trinity, it has helped so many. My son did not join the school until year four because they were full – and yet they have helped me more than anyone ever has,” Carole added.

The starting date for the repairs is New Year 2016. “New Year, new Trinity,“ said Reverend Garner. This is provided there is no rain or snow to cause interference.

There will be no changes to church schedule and the church will continue to be open 365 days of the year.

Reverend Garner has also predicted the duration of the work by saying: “External work is likely to take around seven to eight months. Then there will be a gap, and during this time there will be new toilets and disabled facilities installed. And the second phase is hoped to begin before 2018 and I think it will be completely finished by spring in 2018.”

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