I was disappointed and rather depressed to have attended the Sacred Space for Everyone consultation meeting on Tuesday evening (July 8) looking at proposals to redevelop St Botolph’s Church (the Stump) in the centre of Boston.
I am sure the team working on this project are well-meaning and acting from the noblest of intentions, but the fact remains that the proposals put forward represent an act of great violence to be carried out on a uniquely beautiful and historic interior – involving ripping out pews, construction of modern glass porches, installation of reception desks and American-style welcome points, putting up multiple signage and ‘interpretation’ boards, creation of ‘shared office space’ and many other unsympathetic innovations.
Religious services are to retreat to a small corner of the north aisle (a ‘church within a church’), with the remainder of the building becoming a multicultural community centre.
I am particularly concerned about the future of the Parish Library which contains 1,500 rare and ancient books and has been located in the room over the porch since at least 1634.
Any proposal to move the books out of their historic home would be a serious step and not one to be decided locally by a limited number of people. Boston Parish Library represents an interior of national importance and should the collection be disturbed one would look to intervention by the Ancient Monuments Society which has a statutory power to review drastic alterations to listed buildings.
Much was made during the presentation about the need to make the building accessible to disabled people. However, I think the project team has a flawed interpretation of legal requirements and best practice in this area.
Although every reasonable effort should be made to make the building accessible, where Grade 1 listed buildings are concerned the alterations should not involve radical changes to the historic fabric.
It was disappointing that no firm research was presented on how many customers are likely to be attracted to the new venues to be created within the building, and what prices they are prepared to pay.
Running a commercial events programme must be approached professionally, and provision needs to be made for what happens should the commercial ventures fail. One would expect to see a coherent business plan both fully-costed and detailed.
During the presentation one of the team told us that St Botolph’s has only been completely filled twice in the last 10 years.
This rather overlooks the fact that the building is filled each day with the living Presence of God. St Botolph’s is an ancient holy place created over centuries by past generations of Bostonians and sanctified by their prayers.
It has a precious and unique atmosphere of stillness, silence and holiness. Of course everyone wants to see the building preserved for future generations. In my view this is best achieved by gentle conservation and improvement, not the wholesale trashing and irreversible ‘change’ represented by these proposals.
Has the Church of England given up on St Botolph’s and does it want to be rid of the building?
Nothing else can explain these alarming proposals.