I write to you as one of the trustees of the Trust which owns the small Roman Catholic chapel of St Gregory and St Patrick on Quay Street, Whitehaven. The chapel will be a close neighbour of the proposed office development on the current Argos site should it come to fruition.
I write to explain why I and my fellow trustees believe that the proposed development is a potential danger to our chapel, and one that will remain even after the building of the six story office block.
Firstly, the physical danger to the integrity of the chapel. The current Argos building shares two party walls with the chapel, due to decisions made in the 1980s, when part of the former school was knocked down, leaving the chapel and one former school room standing and attached to the building that went up around it. This building is now proposed to be demolished and the chapel and room ‘released’ as the proposed office block is stepped back to allow for car parking and a small ‘public space’ in front of its reception area.
As trustees we are concerned for the integrity of our property as this major construction work proceeds around it. Assuming that all goes well and no damage is sustained by our chapel during the process of separation and construction, the ongoing maintenance of the walls and roof of the chapel is made more difficult by the fact that we will have no curtilage on two sides from which we can use ladders to clean, repair or look after the outside of two of our walls or half of our roof. (The moss has to be removed on the side of roof closest Argos every year, and the seagull mess from the currently exposed walls every week.) Without access, the chapel will fall into disrepair.
Secondly, the danger to its congregation and other users. The chapel is used every day for Holy Mass, prayer groups and other forms of Christian worship. The room behind the chapel is used weekly by members of the town, such as the Whitehaven Male Voice Choir. During construction work, will continued use of the chapel be guaranteed, given that new building will be going up to the side and to the rear of the chapel? Will the daily voice of worship and praise be drowned out by the noise of diggers and concrete mixers, or will Health & Safety regulations close our chapel altogether until construction is complete?
Thirdly, the upset to those who went to the former school of St Gregory & St Patrick, to those who love the history of Whitehaven, and to those who have already lived through the bulldozing of their homes and businesses to make way for…car parks, mainly.
The trustees today feel that they have a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to protect what is left of the story of Whitehaven as it unfolded in Quay Street, as the Trust has been part of it since it took over responsibility for the chapel early last century. Many in our congregations, and outside of them, attended the former school, (which served education for seventy one years before moving to Esk Avenue), which now bodily survives in the chapel and its meeting room.
The chapel is also the sole survivor of the large numbers of homes and businesses that populated this end of the marina, and which were demolished, scattering the people who lived and worked there. The chapel is, in a very real sense, the only voice that speaks of those communities to modern day Whitehaven. This is not simply about a small Roman Catholic chapel, but Whitehaven’s built and lived heritage.
Finally, as part of the role of religious faith to build up and encourage humanity, the chapel’s appearance after the construction of the six story, ‘wrap around’, office block should be taken into consideration. Is a blank wall, the length of the chapel on the side facing Swingpump Lane, what Whitehaven needs to enhance this area?
That is what the proposal envisions once the chapel is ‘stand alone’ again. A wall that cannot be cleaned or maintained without permission, as the work will have to been undertaken from the ‘public space’ or the office car park. A blank wall, without any features save the inevitable sea gull mess and likely graffiti. The trustees believe that the people of Whitehaven deserve beauty, not utility; a development that improves the mood, rather than undermines it, a public space that gives people a chance to be, in modern parlance, mindful. Blank walls tend to speak only of imprisonment.
We urge both the developers and the Copeland Borough Council to consider the effects mentioned above at this stage of planning, so as to preserve safely the past of Whitehaven and enhance the look of the town by giving it an office block that resembles Whitehaven, not London, Manchester or Birmingham. West Cumbria does not need someone else’s look.
Fr. Cenydd Marrison
Parish Priest of St. Begh’s Church, Coach Road, Whitehaven and St Gregory and St. Patrick’s Chapel, Quay Street, Whitehaven