Anger at new plans for Garrison church

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to save an historic Essex building have reacted angrily to plans to transform it into a Russian Orthodox Church.

James Hore

CAMPAIGNERS hoping to save an historic Essex building have reacted angrily to plans to transform it into a Russian Orthodox Church.

Colchester's old Garrison Church has stood empty and unused for the past year and has been for sale since January.

Bids for the Grade II*-listed building on Military Road have to be in by the end of today and many local people support a scheme to turn it into a community venue capable of holding concerts, exhibitions and arts and drama events.

Campaign group, Save The Garrison Church, yesterday announced they would be putting in a bid for the church, which was built in the 1850s.

Their proposals were backed this year by presenter of the Restoration television series, Griff Rhys Jones who spoke passionately about saving the venue when he visited Colchester.

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It has now emerged the Orthodox Church in Felixstowe has also put a bid in and hope to transform the interior to accommodate its style of worship.

They have the backing of English Heritage and would also open it up for community use and include it on the tourist map of the town to encourage more people to visit.

A planning application has already been put into Colchester Borough Council for internal alterations.

The Rev Andrew Philips, from the church, said he hoped the proposed changes would “harmonise” with the present interior and said feedback he had been told the proposal was “ideal”.

But Save The Garrison Church group have attacked the plans, saying they would not fit in with the requirements of the Garrison master plan of 2001, which states the building must be used for community, education or leisure use.

David Morgans, group secretary, said the plans for a Russian Orthodox Church were not suitable.

He said: “We are strongly against an individual faith trying to take it for their own use and we feel it is not part of the local community - they may have a need for it, but who is to say if they will want to stay in the future.

“We would not be happy, as a group, and we see a case for using the existing structure for large concerts for hundreds of people which would not be possible if the inside of the building was sectioned off.”

But Mr Phillips said: “We would be letting the hall out for community use and there are a couple of groups who have already expressed an interest.

“The church would also be put on the local tourist map, so it would be opened up once or twice a week for visits, because I think it is very much under-appreciated at the moment.

“I have no idea about whether our bid will be successful and I don't know how many groups have put in a tender."

He said they needed a more central location for the church instead of Felixstowe, where it is currently based.

“There is no Russian Orthodox church anywhere in Essex - we have been in Felixstowe for 11 years, but we have never been able to obtain permanent premises.

“We are a regional church and Colchester would be the ideal location because we have been looking between Lowestoft and Romford as we have a huge catchment area.”

Daniel Wye, of Fenn Wright, which is selling the church for owners Taylor Wimpey, said: “There has been a lot of interest and there have been bids.

“It is not the client's wish to accept any offer where it won't be operating in the context of the building's listing and they want to ensure the building is looked after.”

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