No Surprises Living In Devizes: Nettle of change must be grasped if we’re to have arts centre

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Is Wiltshire Council refusing to let St Mary's Church have a role in Devizes' future?


I WAS four in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee. I recall a tonnage of bunting at our local recreation ground, though it’s vague. One sentiment glued in my head is frustration, with my parents the following morning, writes DARREN WORROW.

I’d been given a silver spoon with the crest of the jubilee, they were of the opinion it was something to treasure, to keep in mint condition, as one day, I was told, it’d be worth a fortune. I disagreed; sure was a lovely spoon, made sense to me it should have the honour of being used to eat my Coco Pops with.

I snivelled in our kitchen; mum, adamant I wasn’t going to use it to eat my cereal, finally caved, telling me the spoon would be ruined and I’d be sorry when I grew up. I did use the spoon, and continued to use it right into my mid-twenties, when the crest was long gone and it rusted to a state of disrepair.

It was futile to expect a four-year-old to comprehend sentimental value, but till this day I’m not materialistic, I’d sooner something be functional than retaining it for visual nostalgia. When studying art history I focussed on tribal art as they put design into their tools, as nomadic it’s pointless to carry unnecessary items for their aesthetical value.

Dating from the Norman era, the Church of St Mary the Virgin in New Park Street is one of the most important buildings in Devizes; it’s Grade I listed, in the top 2.5% of listed buildings in the country and its tower is a landmark in town, but no it’s longer in use as a church.

A Conservation Management Plan was produced four years ago at the request of the Salisbury Diocese and passed to a number of consultees; the Diocesan Advisory Board, Wiltshire Development (Planning & Conservation,) Historic England, The Church Building Council, Devizes Town Council and Trust For Devizes.

The St Mary Trust formed a vision, to transform the historic church into a vibrant building for the arts. It’s been a battleground since, initially turned down by Wiltshire Council, appealed, and turned down more times than the dweeb in the first year asking out Tracey Slater, the fittest chick in sixth form.

The grounds for their decision? WC planning officer, Mike Wilmott said, “This is a contemporary addition to a very old building. This will make substantial harm to the setting of this building,” and accused the group of blackmail, which, with all due respect, sounds to me like a crock of shit.

Nobody’s proposing holding a Special Brew anarchist’s sadomasochist brawl, or asking West Ham and Milwall fans to settle their differences with a monster truck rally. It’s just a few mild-mannered Devizions wanting space to perform some music and theatre.

By my reckoning, the modern regime we burden under despises funding arts. They’d rather we wake, work, be content watching Homes under the Hammer, sleep and repeat.

There’s a meeting to be held at 7.30pm on February 1 at the church, chaired by St Mary’s Future Group.  The churchwarden, Tony Storer explained to the Gazette, “The purpose is to review what has happened over the past two years, including a presentation outlining the Conservation Management Plan, developed with advice from the Salisbury Diocese.”

In the uncertainty, I hope the meeting doesn’t conclude that anything is better than being left redundant and the church gets used for something-or-other, like, I dunno, selling off for an antiques shop disguised by a fancy name, or slapping up two-thousand shoebox sized flats, just for the sake of it. I wouldn’t have eaten any old, budget-range chocolate rice pops with my jubilee spoon, had to be Coco Pops.

An art gallery, café, charity base, use by another congregation, craft workshop, theatre, and a drop-in centre are all decent suggestions. After permitted TITCO performances, such as the brilliant and apt Sister Act, it’s clear, acoustically and functionally, St Mary’s would make an awesome arts centre, which would need a café for intervals, and when no performances are happening, it’d be perfect for all the other suggestions; hey, a multi-purpose arts centre, why not?

A similar pursuit for an Arts Centre in Calne is under discussion, using the Grove building.

Town councillor Terry Couchman informed me he’s “desperate to get some individual and group outline proposals of how they would like to use the Grove. Without these brief declarations and interest it’s going to be a tough fight with Wiltshire Council.”

I pondered with Terry, after explaining about St Mary’s; “I wonder if they’ll try similar on the Grove, although it’s not an old church?”

“They want to sell it for building,” he sighed, “to the highest bidder.”

Why doesn’t this surprise me? Again, there’s Town Council Meeting in Calne on February 5, see the Calne in Tune Project Facebook page.

The Rev Canon Paul Richardson, St Mary’s Rector said it all, without adding things about monster truck rallies like me; “Without development of St Mary’s Church for community use it will be closed, and its future conservation is by no means secure. There is no harm to the building; there is minimum impact on its setting and the conservation area. There is a clearly identified and acknowledged public need that outweighs that minimum impact.”

Unless WC can see logic, like my rusted, worthless spoon, St Marys and the Grove will be hidden away, considered too aesthetically pleasing to be functional for art, which is kinda the same thing isn’t it? So come on Wiltshire Council, as we see our amenities fast diminishing, such as the hub of Brickstead and Eastleigh Rd, The Cavalier, isn’t it about time to bring something fresh to these market towns?  

If I’d only kept the spoon, I’d bop them on the nose with it. I Googled it, you can buy a mint one on eBay for £1:99; worthless now, there wasn’t a need to treasure it, just saying.

 

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