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When we had returned home and gone through the campaign, we were saddened that at any time, it could have been our ‘last’ visit to St John’s to see the structure. But it was a rather strange time. We expected the building – or at least the spire – to be demolished the day after the outcome, or perhaps a couple of weeks after but it didn’t happen. We had local residents who would contact us should they see the ‘wreckers ball’ so we could at least take footage of the spire/church being demolished – and perhaps ask to save us a brick or two, but nothing happened.
For a spire that was so close to collapse, it was a mystery. What was holding the spire up if it was in danger of falling? The PCC had the approval to demolish the church, the building wasn’t listed and yet the spire didn’t fall. Months went by and we drove past each week and still it was standing. And then the bolt out of the blue news dropped…..
From the Diocese of Liverpool’s website:
The church council of St John the Divine has agreed a deal which has rescued of the spire of St John the Divine church in Fairfield. They agreed to sell the building to a local firm at a much reduced cost in return for an agreement that the spire will remain intact. The developers were planning to cap the spire to make it safe but this deal preserves the building intact. The church council had been awarded a court judgement giving them permission to demolish the spire on health and safety grounds. The spire was in such a dangerous state as to be uninsurable and there was a real threat of masonry falling, causing a serious or fatal injury. The professional advice was that it could cost up to £500,000 to repair and maintain the spire.
While the church council did not have the finance to maintain the spire and the church congregation no longer worships at that building, they are pleased to have reached the agreement. It has come at a cost to the church as the proceeds from the sale would have been used to fund the other work of the church.
The church council worked with the Archdeacon and officers from the Diocese of Liverpool to try to save the spire. This was a difficult task as the church was refused listing from the DCMS and approaches to a variety of local and regional funding agencies were met with sympathy rather than money. This led to the council sacrificing money that they could have used to further other work.
The Venerable Ricky Panter, Archdeacon of Liverpool commented “while it is tremendous to have been able to have preserved the spire at St John’s this case shows the dilemma facing many of our churches. Very often they are caught between the heritage lobby calling for buildings to be preserved and the financial reality that there is no money to pay for the work to be done. On this occasion the church council were able to agree a rescue package however this is not always the case and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.
“the Diocese of Liverpool is very conscious of the many fine church buildings that exist in the Diocese and works hard to help local vicars and congregations preserve these buildings.” Councillor Louise Baldock, who represents Fairfield said "We all welcome this wonderful news. The Church, both in Fairfield and within the diocese has worked hard to achieve this fantastic outcome. It would have been easy for them to demolish the church and sell the land, once they found out that the spire was unsafe and beyond their means to repair. We particularly owe a debt of thanks to Reverend Andrew Porter and his congregation at St John the Divine for finding the money to save the church and spire for posterity by reducing the sale price accordingly. It is a great day for Fairfield's heritage and a great way to end the 08 Culture year in our neighbourhood".
On the 11th December 2008, the Liverpool Echo wrote:
CAMPAIGNERS last night claimed a victory for people power after it was announced a threatened Victorian church spire in Fairfield, Liverpool, has been saved from demolition. The church council of St John the Divine has agreed a deal which has rescued the spire of the church. They agreed to sell the building to developers Huyton-based DDL90 at a much reduced cost, in return for an agreement that the spire will remain intact. It followed a concerted effort from local heritage campaigners, councillors, and the charity Save Britain?s Heritage, whose expert stonemasons proved the building had a financially viable future.
Last night, Jonathan Brown, of Merseyside Civic Society, said: We regret the diocese had to be shamed by public outrage into doing the right thing, but congratulate them for eventually seeing the light. We are also very grateful to the Daily Post for its coverage of the story. Liverpool Diocese decided in June that the spire had to be knocked down because the structure might collapse and costs of repair were prohibitive.
The church won a special court case to allow it to demolish the spire in September, but only yesterday announced the deal to save it. Last night, the city's historic environment champion Cllr Berni Turner; Cllr Colin Eldridge, who campaigned to save the spire, and Fairfield's Cllr Louise Baldock said they were delighted by the decision.
And the Venerable Ricky Panter, Archdeacon of Liverpool, said the case showed the dilemma facing many of the diocese's churches. On this occasion, the church council were able to agree a rescue package, but this isn't always the case and sometimes difficult decisions have to be made?
After the campaign had come to a successful conclusion, highlighting the plight of the building, its history and how it could be saved, we had been in touch with many historical society’s to help us on our journey. Considerable time and money was spent in getting the campaign together, local meetings took place, phone calls were made and this resulted in giving up a lot of our time and money which we were happy to spend, especially now the church had been saved.
It took a good few people to stand up and be sworn in against a Judge. People who were prepared to take time to go to this meeting to give their side to the story.
However, a strange article in the Echo appeared by the Archdeacon Ricky Panter and this is copied below. It is a very sad closure to the campaign in which he believes that the campaigners did nothing save the spire…..
"Having been closely involved with the whole process of dealing with a serious health and safety issue in what is actually a non-listed building, I know exactly how much help the campaigners gave in saving the spire, none at all. They didn't save it the local church and a private purchaser did, as our statement made plain.
I personally liaised with Will Palin, of SAVE Britain's Heritage, who has been constructive and supportive, understanding how difficult this situation was to resolve, and has written today congratulating the church and diocese on brokering the deal. Unlike SAVE, Jonathan Brown has never spoken to me to obtain the facts about the situation, yet he feels able to suggest that the diocese was shamed into taking this action. In doing so, he ignores the huge amount of ongoing work that the diocese and local congregations undertake on a daily basis to preserve many of the city's finest buildings. And this work rarely gets any public mention.
The so-called campaign to save the spire of St John's actually changed nothing and did nothing. All the processes we went through were normal and necessary. The one thing the campaigners might have offered, financial assistance, was notable in its absence. Few of us appreciate being told how to spend our money, yet campaigners were asking the local congregation to fall on their swords to protect a landmark. That is not the church's prime business, yet they still dug into their own pockets to make the deal possible. It's fine to have lofty ideals about maintaining landmarks, but, unless there is a recognition of the financial costs involved, and a cool assessment of the comparative quality of the building and English Heritage and the listing authority are the final word on that, it is little more than hot air.
St John's spire is a notable feature on the approach to Liverpool down Edge Lane Drive. I was as keen as anyone to see it saved, and have personally engaged with as many people as I could in order to find a solution. To be pilloried when we achieve another small victory for a local community is very unfair.
Archdeacon Ricky Panter, via email
SUMMING UP THE SUCCESS OF THE CAMPAIGN
It was very odd for Ricky Panter to have sent this letter in to the Echo stating that the campaigners did nothing to save the spire. As I write this in 2020, the spire is still there, and the Church is now flats (more of this below). But this is exactly what the outcome achieved:
The Campaign headed up by a few local people (Jonathon Wild, Jonathan Brown, Elizabeth Pascoe and a few others who don’t wish to be named), highlighted the fact that Church buildings cannot just be ‘dropped’ on a whim, especially when it is not a straightforward reason for demolition. The actual issue with the spire was never presented in any legal documents or the court hearing. It simply mentions issues with the spire. Where we to take their word on this and assume that the spire was in such a dangerous condition that it was going to fall straight away?
The campaign showed that a group of people, can get together and formulate enough of a team to stand up to a building from being demolished, without good reason. Questions were given by the campaign, issues were raised, and this was brought to a head by a fair hearing in the ‘court’ by the judge. He allowed us to stand up and talk about what we believed in, what was unfair practice, and what the actual truth was. The Judges report summed the whole campaign up fairly. There were issues with the Church and yet the bottom line was that the spire was in danger of collapse at any moment, yet 12 years later, the spire is very much still standing. Was the spire the excuse they needed to push for demolition? Would the land have been sold for housing?
Campaigns like this give jo public a voice. They are there to show the other side of what is being promoted. Our campaign gave St John’s a voice and enough of a reason to question what we were being told. What if the church was demolished and the land wasn’t bought? The PCC and the people of Liverpool would have lost out both ways.
The campaign was a success because 12 years later, the Church and Spire is still standing.
THE NEW FLATS
The Church was empty from 2007 until 2014 when a new planning application was submitted to Liverpool City Council…. “To convert former church/community hall to form 9 no. flats and carry out associated alterations to external appearance.” – there was no objection from us, this is exactly what we wanted for the abandoned building.
It was most odd that in the 7 years it was empty, the spire still had not fallen and the success of this planning application meant that the structure of the building would be saved.
The campaign has now gone full circle and a complete success in my opinion. The saving of the tower and spire, and the interior made good use of. What a fantastic achievement this was proving that the tower and spire could indeed be saved.
What is most important is that it was stated that the tower would fall down within weeks back in 2007, but at the time of writing in 2020, it is still standing proud, as a beacon to Fairfield.
SAVING ST JOHN THE DIVINE, FAIRFIELD
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