My brother lives in a village, Ansley, in Warwickshire. The Parish has 4 churches; St Lawrences (which like Bibury Parish Church has a Karl Parsons window), St Wilfreds, St Michaels and St Johns. They had a stipendiary Vicar, the Rev’d Peter Allen who retired in 2015. There followed an interregnum period of 3 years.

In this period their PCC was ‘invited’ by the Coventry dioceses Archdeacon to submit an advert to apply for a replacement Vicar at a cost £1,400.00 (by contrast in their interregnum, Bibury with Winson PCC had been invited to write a ‘Parish Profile’ at no charge). In 2018 a replacement Vicar, the Rev’d John Langlands, was appointed. He was officially only part-time (3 days/week) and paid as a Curate, apparently because he hadn’t fully completed his training. John was ‘retired’ by the diocese in June 2020.

Early this year the future of the Parish was discussed. Church members were told of diocesan plans to extend the Parish boundaries to include Fillongley and Corley, thus adding an extra 4 churches. The diocesan provision to oversee the churches and provide pastoral support to the residents of the villages amounts to half an ordained Vicar. Hubs, led by lay readers, were to be opened in various facilities in the nearby town of Nuneaton (the Myriad scheme).

Aside from the tragic loss of local leadership and pastoral care to those who have filled the diocesan coffers over many years, the glaringly obvious flaws of applying this CofE hare-brained scheme to the area are firstly that there is woefully little parking in Nuneaton so folk who live outside its boundaries have no interest in driving into town for such events. Secondly, the CofE is seemingly totally unaware of the massive housing developments that have grown up around the villages in Warwickshire. Where is the help and spiritual support that the CofE should be offering, through its local parish priests, to the families that have moved to these developments?

1 Comment

Froghole · 2 March 2022 at 11:39 am

Many thanks. The point about developments is well made. There are, as you will know, the massive developments on the north/east side of Nuneaton, up to the boundary with Leicestershire (Caldecote church was closed several years’ ago despite the march of sprawl in its direction), and there are significant developments, and not only of vast distribution sheds, on the Leicestershire side, between Lutterworth and Hinckley). Sprawl is also evident across much of the rest of the Warwickshire: Southam, for example has more than doubled in size over the last two years (it was Justin Welby’s old parish, and he also served his title at the magnificent church at Astley, close to Ansley). This is general across England: it is simply untrue that the accretions of sprawl – as great as anything since the 1930s – will make much difference to house prices, the increase of which is informed chiefly by the absence of CGT.

However, the paving over of Essex, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire especially is driven by the pump-and-dump dynamics of the London property market. Most people in work are now defined contribution pensioners, and their pension savings do not even come close to their retirement needs. Therefore, they have to sell up in London to release capital for retirement, which means moving beyond the ‘ne plus ultra’ of the home counties into the Midlands. This, in turn, means increasing the housing supply in the Midlands drastically. Of course, these newcomers bring their London prices with them, to some extent, and the price differentials have declined in consequence, especially since the onset of the pandemic.

However, the newcomers have generally provided little in the way of a boost to congregations in the towns and villages they colonise. They were overwhelmingly irreligious in London, and they will likely remain overwhelmingly irreligious at the places to which they move. Moreover, so many of the new settlements are not really integrated into the towns and villages on which they are dumped: they are not ‘integral; they are often instead a species of disembodied community which relates to out of own shopping centres, and perhaps certain civic amenities, but not so much to the historic communities of which they are a part. Many are on former MOD sites: think of the big new developments at Heyford in Oxfordshire, or Meon Vale in Worcestershire: the churches at Upper and Lower Heyford, or at Quinton or the Marstons have benefitted scarcely a whit: the inhabitants of these new communities will drive into Banbury/Bicester or Alcester/Evesham and will mostly not be integrated with any historic parishes. This is somewhat different to the Macmillan housing boom, where council housing was supplied, often on a small scale, to existing local workers: those communities were rather better integrated with existing settlements from the outset.

So it is therefore very hard for the Church to effect any kind of meaningful mission in these new sprawls and, of course, it seldom has the capital to invest, even where sprawl is planted on former glebe lands released for development by desperate DBFs. Take the big new development (partly distribution sheds) at Houghton Regis, between Dunstable and Luton. That is on land released by the Church. Will All Saints Houghton Regis benefit from it? It was already weak, and the new estates are close to junctions of the M1, so may only doubtfully spend much time in the erstwhile ‘village’.

You compare Ansley with Barnsley, Bibury and Winson (I have attended services at pretty much all of the churches in Coventry and Gloucester dioceses). Even allowing for the Newdegate influence Arley, there is little comparison between the two. Although there is some considerable wealth in NE Warwickshire, there is also much deprivation, for instance in the Stockingford chapelry of Nuneaton. Barnsley, Bibury and Winson are, by contrast, free from practically any development (only a few new houses had been built in Barnsley and Bibury when I last looked in the autumn, and Winson has had nothing to speak of), but they are also impregnably wealthy, and are almost the wealthiest part of the Cotswolds. Yet even there it is my understanding that Mr Hastie-Smith has worked on a HFD basis (and he has his Gabbitas income, and pension from Dean Close). It is therefore an area which is altogether more propitious for the Church. Yet it is also an area where worship provision has declined somewhat: take the Windrush benefice, which now has only one service a week, meaning that its churches have lost some vitality (with Great Barrington falling more and more into a de facto festival status with worship only on the fifth Sunday). Provision at other local churches has also declined (it is now a nullity at Chastleton and Hawling, for example), and the recent closure of Aston Somerville is a warning.

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