January 5, 2017
Residents call for halt to plans to demolish Highbridge gospel church

Highbridge residents are calling for a halt to the proposed demolition of a derelict church in the town without a 'robust action plan' for the future of the site being in place first.

The former Highbridge Gospel Tabernacle building in Newtown Road is due to be pulled down after its owner submitted a Demolition Order with Sedgemoor District Council, as we first reported last November.

Local resident Sarah Buchanan has written to the council with her concerns about the plans, writing: "I object as once the building is demolished it's just going to sit there a vacant site like the Highbridge Hotel or the old FF&F building on the corner of Market Street. Do we really want another piece of bollarded-up derelict land?"

"This building is a part of the history of this town since the mid 1800s and should not be demolished without a robust action plan first. The council should place a preservation order on the building and force the owner to either sell it or develop it into something to suit the residential area and street scene."

And Highbridge town councillor John Parkes, pictured, told this week: "There's concern that Highbridge is about to lose more of its cultural heritage - it's been a community facility for many years."

"It is very sad to see the church in its current state but we'd just like to know what the future holds for the site before it is demolished. We don't want another Highbridge Hotel situation."

"Residents are rightly concerned about what will happen in the medium to long term there."

Sedgemoor District Council's planning department are consulting on the plans until January 14th, 2017.

Ten years ago, in 2007, we reported on a petition to try and seek improvements for the derelict church but no action was forthcoming despite residents' concerns about the condition of the property.

The story behind Highbridge's former Gospel Tabernacle:

Highbridge historians believe the building in Newtown Road was initially built as a Seaman’s Mission.

It later became the Plymouth Brethren Gospel Hall but was apparently closed in the early 1950s.

It later re-opened and in 1973 the South and West Evangelical Trust gave the Reverend Black the use of the building who spent several years repairing it, overseeing roof repairs and a new floor.

An attempt was made to purchase land at the rear so that the church could expand and build toilets, but this was unsuccessful. Despite this, the hall was renamed the Gospel Tabernacle Evangelical Church and it became popular with meetings for children, with up to five meetings a week attracting 60-80 children.

In 1991, the Reverend Black retired and moved back to the States. One of his sons, Kelton, continued his father’s work at the Gospel Tabernacle for several years however the condition of the property was poor and it was found to be impossible to improve the facilities inspite of all their efforts.

During the mid-1990s the Salvation Army Citadel in the old Burnham Road came on the market and it was purchased by the South and West Evangelical Trust who then provided the opportunity for a ‘new’ Gospel Tabernacle Evangelical Church to be introduced. Their first service was held on Easter Sunday, 1998, and the Newtown Road property has been disused since then.

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