Steps in the Destruction of a Parish Church: St Jude’s Shirley Warren in Winchester diocese.
This sad story is worth reading in its entirety to make you aware of how a church built by the
heroic efforts of a working-class community can be sold off.
I have a woeful story to tell of the long fight for the very existence of a really modern church
in the centre of a social housing estate in Southampton. A large housing estate was built in
1928/9 in the area known as Shirley Warren on the outskirts of the city. There was a wooden
building which was used for a church but with the influx of thousands of newly housed
residents it was felt that a proper substantial church should be built.
In 1939 a piece of land was made available by a member of the community for the building
of a Christian Church with a covenant stating that it was to be used for a place of worship
for the community. In the 1950s a further piece of land was added by another member of the
community so that the church could have a hall for religious readings, Sunday school and
community activities; this also was put into a covenant stating what it was to be used for.
This community hall is the only meeting space for the community in the area. The police
and social services held meetings there; there were political meetings, prayer meetings,
birthday parties, wedding receptions, health courses, weight loss groups etc.etc.
The Church of England being strapped for cash could only offer a part payment towards the
church building. So the rest of the money had to be raised by the community. There was a
monumental effort made by this poor working-class community to raise funds so they could
have their own church and church hall. Funds were raised from local events, gifts, from the
Sunday School, cubs, scouts, girl guides just about everyone putting in anything, farthings,
half pennies, pennies etc until they had enough money to build the church and the church
hall. The buildings were finally completed in 1956 and handed over to the Church of
England for safeguarding for time and eternity.
Fast forward to 2006: the priest left for a bigger parish and we were informed he was not
being replaced. In his place we were given retired priests who visited for an hour long
service, sometimes weekly, sometimes fortnightly, sometimes monthly: even on a few
occasions a period of six weeks passed between services. This came to a head when on
Easter Sunday with a full church the allocated priest failed to arrive.The congregation left
after this debacle and never fully returned.
What appears to have happened is that the Church services were being closed down bit by
bit in order to make the site non viable and ripe for profit taking.
Then in 2010 the duty of conducting a service was added on to the duties of the priest in the
neighbouring parish of Maybush but no extra assistance was given so he was extremely
The church which stands close to the General Hospital in Southampton, has a cosmopolitan
make-up of those predominately working in the General Hospital, including Indian, African,
European, Chinese families.The churches’ finances were boosted from 2010 by allowing the
Filipino church use the church hall for prayer meetings and full service. This attracted
around 200 worshipers each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays with most of the
congregation being made up from Hospital workers. Having the Filipino church using the
facilities kept the church in credit and it had no debts whatsoever by 2013.
The appointed Bishop of Winchester ‘ Bishop Tim ‘ made his views clear that he wished to
sell the site and more and more pressure was put on the Parish Council to sell until they
finally agreed but only if it was sold to another church. The Anglican church of St. Jude’s
was amalgamated with the neighbouring parish of Maybush in 2014 and they became known
as the Parishes of Maybush & St. Jude’s. The Romanian Orthodox Church hired the church
from 2015 and attracted a minimum of 250 worshipers weekly. The local residents used the
hall for public meetings, elections, parties and events.
Then in 2016 the Bishop of Winchester decided he was selling the site to a housing
association from Bournemouth. Plans were raised for the site to be demolished and 28 flats
to be built. Any thoughts on covenants, the PCC decision to sell only to another church were
forgotten along with any thoughts on what the local residents might want.
A petition with 1050 signatures was raised from the surrounding area , window posters put
up saying ‘Save the Church’, local media were reporting on protests and pictures were
proximately being printed in the local press and of the local politicians all came out in
There was such an uproar that after a period of six months the Dean of Bournemouth was
dispatched to the parish to discuss the events and find a way forward. It was agreed to sell
the church to the Romanian church if they had the funds and the hall should remain
available for local events and meetings. That was 2016. In one of his last acts as parish
priest, the priest and neighbouring PCC of Maybush confirmed the previous decision taken
back in 2016 to sell St. Jude’s church to the Romanian Church.
Moving on to 2020 the pandemic hit and all churches had to be closed and all keys were
collected by the new priest from the neighbouring parish of Maybush. July arrived and
churches were opening again and the churches and residents asked for the return of the keys
to be told that it had been decided to sell St. Jude’s. A notice to the two churches dated on a
Tuesday stated that they wanted both Romanian and Filipino churches off site by Friday of
the same week. What love, compassion and what Christian Charity!
The local residents and the worshippers at St. Jude’s felt that with over 500 worshippers
from the combined Romanian Orthodox Church and the Filipino Church, worshiping every
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, both the Diocese of Winchester and the neighbouring
Parish would have been pleased. How wrong we were! What do you do if you have a
successful church full 3 x per week and with the local residents happily using the facilities
and church hall? Sell it, of course.
The community wanted answers on to why this was happening and time and time again sent
requests for discussions, community meetings, public meetings, or some sort of
communiqué, but no responses were ever received to the numerous emails, letters, ‘phone
messages etc … just nothing. The last consultation with the community was back in 2016
when it was decided to sell the church to the Romanian church. What had changed?
The whole parish of St.Jude’s was being ostracised and completely blanked by Winchester
Diocese and the Church of England as a whole. The community was getting angry at the
lack of any communication.Then St. Judes church was posted on the internet as being for
sale on the 16th January 2021 with full and final bids to be in by close of business the same
day. Yes, please read that again. The sale was posted on the internet sometime in the
morning of the 16th January 2021 with FULL AND FINAL BIDS IN BY CLOSE OF
BUSINESS THE SAME DAY. This can be hardly classed as open marketing obviously it
had been done for a reason.
I rang the estate agents on the 17th January and was informed that the bidding had closed on
the 16th January and they had a preferred bidder already. The diocese having a preferred
bidder at this stage did not come as any great shock to me, although the details of the
successful bidder were not being released. What this underhand marketing process achieved
was to sideline all the other churches who wanted to bid.
An African church saw it on the internet sometime in January and on enquiry was advised
that the bidding process had been completed and a preferred buyer nominated. An Indian
church and a Chinese church were also given the same information. The Filipino church
who had been on site since 2010 were told that they were not allowed to bid under the orders
of Bishop Tim, as their brand of Christianity did not meet that of the Church of England. It
did not matter a jot that they had purchased other churches elsewhere in the country; they
were not allowed to bid for this one. The Romanian Church who had been using the church
since 2015 and who at a meeting in 2016 was the preferred bidder by the community had all
its offers dismissed out of hand even though it had managed to put a sizable amount of
money away in the bank. Its congregation of at least 300 church users every week was just
With the church and church hall still closed off to the community, the next thing was the
proclamation and advertisements in local papers that St. Jude’s church was being put under
the Draft Pastoral Church Building Scheme put out by the Church Commissioners in
London and that the church site should be used for a children’s nursery and/or offices or
light industry. An investigation into the preferred bidder showed that it was actually a group
of companies made up of three property development companies and a children’s nursery.
All with the same directors and all registered at the same address.
There was of course uproar in the local community and when the open day arrived to
informally present the new potential owners, the anger from the community was very
pointed to say the least. It was made absolutely clear to the clergy in attendance that the
community wanted to keep their church and hall in situ. It was pointed out that a petition of
1050 residents had been raised back in 2016 to keep the site for Christian worship. The
clergy however informed the complainants that the petition in question was to keep the
church and church hall against the building of flats on the site and this was another project
and therefore as far as the clergy was concerned it was null and void.
There was a five week deadline that representations for and against the sale of the church to
the group of companies could be sent to the Church Commissioners. After a quick
discussion, it was decided to raise a new petition which quite spectacularly in four short
weeks raised a fantastic 1667 signatures for keeping the church and church hall as places of
worship. Also, over 100 letters were sent to the Church Commissioners to save the church
and church hall.
Due to the large number of protesters the Church Commissioners decided to hold a meeting
at Southampton Football Club in November 2022 to discuss the matter and to hear selected
representations from both sides. We have now received their response explaining their
decision to sell to the children’s nursery and to go against the very vocal community stating
that they wanted to retain the site as a place of worship. Why, oh why, one does but ask!
The Church Commissioners findings are as follows:
1.The statutory requirements of the consultation process had been met. They were satisfied
that the consultation had met the requirements of the 2011 measure.
So the Church Commissioners feel that the last consultation in 2016 when the community
and clergy agreed that the site should be sold to the Romanian Church met the requirements
of the consultation process?
2. That selling to the Children’s Nursery would further the mission of the Church and it was
noted that the proceeds from the sale would be used to further the local mission in the
neighbouring parish. It appears what they are saying is that Winchester Diocese and the
Church Commissioners in London can act completely against the wishes of the local
community here in Southampton who wish to keep the site they basically bought and paid
for as a place of worship with their community hall remaining for the use of all. They have
dismissed the 1050 named petition in 2016, the 1667 named petition raised in 2022 and the
100+ letters pleading that the site remain as a holy site. They also appear to have forgotten
that the community built this site for the community.
But it appears that the Church knows best in these matters!
3. It was noted that the current priest in-charge of Maybush parish had been asked to
conduct a survey in 2016 and she concluded that St. Jude’s was not an asset in the
community. A few issues here as stated previously. In 2016 there was uproar in the
community with Bishop Tim wanting to build flats on the site. Media, politicians, a 1050
named petition sent to the Bishop, bad publicity regarding the decision was rife so much so
that the Bishop sent his envoy down to discuss matters at a public meeting.
Yet the current priest-in-charge at Maybush states ‘The reputation of the church (St. Jude’s)
was poor. Most people were indifferent to the church’s presence but some had told of
previous incumbents being unhelpful and unfriendly’.1050 signatures, window posters, local
media and politicians shouting to keep St. Judes and yet according to the local clergy,
nothing occurred and nobody wanted the church. Meanwhile, 78% of the sale value of St.
Jude’s is going to the neighbouring parish of Maybush.
4. The Commissioners noted the advice of para 17.6 of the code of practice to the Mission
and Pastoral Measure that the worship by another Christian group is usually the best use for
a closed church. However they state on this occasion they needed to consider in the wider
context the furtherance of the whole mission of the Church of England in pastoral,
evangelistic, social and ecumenical areas. The Commissioners noted that there were
countervailing considerations reflecting different strands of the Church’s mission. Sale to
the Romanian Orthodox Church would promote the ecumenical aspect whereas the nursery
would promote the social element of the mission. Whereas the sale to the nursery would
benefit the parish by accepting the highest offer. They state that the Children’s Nursery and
company group offered £15,000 more than the Romanian church; and the group of
companies could pay cash, whilst the Romanians would have to raise a mortgage, which
appears to be around 50% of the site value. So the overview from Winchester and the
Church Commissioners is that the nursery and the group of three property development
companies would promote the social element even though the community has stated they did
not want or need another nursery in the area: they wanted a place of worship.
How this idea of any social element came about is anyone’s guess, but by not
communicating with the local community, neither the Church Commissioners and
Winchester diocese would have known that just 400/500 yds away at the General Hospital is
another children’s nursery; some 400 yds further down the road from the church there is yet
another, while going back one road from the church there is yet another nursery and going
back one more road there is yet another nursery. There is however, NOT another community
hall in the area whatsoever.
5. They were also satisfied that the bidding process had been fair. What! Marketed for just
one day, and one day only on the internet on the open market? Do you believe that this is a
fair bidding process?
6. They had noted that the community had repeatedly stated that the covenants on the
grounds and the buildings were not being met. They state that after legal advice they have
been informed that this did not prevent the site being sold for other uses but the proceeds
had to be used by the church with 78% of the proceeds going to the neighbouring parish of
Maybush and 22% to the Church Commissioners. The Commissioners have taken advice on
this but it is obvious the community gave the land and bought and paid for the buildings for
the use of the community and the generations to follow not for the church to sell them for
their monetary value.
The 1939 and 1956 conveyance paperwork which detail the covenants for the Church and
Church Hall state that the donated ground shall be used for ecclesiastical purposes in the
said parish and for the celebration of rites and services of the Church of England. To be used
a site for a Church, Chapel, mission or parish room lecture class or meeting room. For
clerical meetings, for social conferences, for Bible, confirmation or communicant classes,
for the meeting of any societies, and for the promotion or assistance of any ecclesiastical
purpose. As a site for a garden of conveniences to be enjoyed by the congregation.
On this donated land the community came together to raise the necessary funds to build both
the Church and Bell tower and church hall with the Church of England putting forward a
donation towards the build. The Church Commissioners after taking legal advice from the
lawyers working on behalf of the Church of England have found a loop-hole that the site can
be sold for other uses and the monies raised used to fill the coffers of the neighbouring
parish and those of the church Commissioners. 1956 was not that long ago. Numerous
members of the community remember their parents putting in cash so this holy site could be
built on. The residents who were children at the time can remember putting in part of their
pocket money so as to create a central site for the community which can be used by all. No
other meeting hall exists anywhere in the area.
It is felt that the Church of England have stolen the heart of this community, coming as
thieves in the night to steal this much loved site just for its monetary value. The people who
gave so much and worked so hard to build this centre brick by brick for the community only
a very short time ago must be turning in their graves.
The Church of England may have the legal grounds to sell our church and Church Hall for
the cash it will raise, but what about the moral grounds?
I have spoken to many people in the community and they are furious that the established
Church of England should treat them in this manner and to absolutely ignore their wishes.
I fear that all respect for the Church of England has now been lost amongst the thousands of
homes that make up the Shirley Warren neighbourhood.
8. Finally, on this decision the Commissioners state that this decision was likely to make
better provision for the cure of souls.