Plans to transform chapel into community hub take step closer to reality

Plans to transform an empty Wigan chapel for use by the community have moved a step closer to becoming a reality.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 3:08 pm
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 3:10 pm
Lyndsey Williams, Julie Bennett and Kerry Garforth, from the Friends of Hindley Cemetery, in the chapel

Plans to transform an empty Wigan chapel for use by the community have moved a step closer to becoming a reality.

The Friends of Hindley Cemetery have now received the keys to a chapel on the site, taking over the reins from Wigan Council

They have big plans to revamp the building, which has been empty for around 25 years, and have been keen to set about it before it falls into total disrepair.

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Inside the chapel

The Friends launched a fund-raising appeal and expressed an interest in taking on the building from Wigan Council via an asset transfer and, after being vetted at a panel meeting in January, they were given the green light.

They have since formed a community interest company (CIC) which has been registered with Companies House and will be used to run the chapel. And the keys have now been officially handed over by the local authority.

The building is set to become a hub for people who are grieving, as well as the wider community. At present the main building would continue as a chapel for reflection and other services but could also be pressed into other communal uses, while its annexe will get an upgrade for chats and brews.

Julie Bennett, chairman of the Friends of Hindley Cemetery, said that what lay ahead now amounted to a Hindley version of the BBC’s hit show DIY SOS with local people and businesses pledging their time, skills and resources to making it all happen.

Indeed several local businesses have already committed thousands of pounds to the project, including Sean Stockton, the grandfather of Presley Stockton, the Hindley four-year-old who died in a Tenerife swimming pool drowning accident three years ago.

Presley is buried nearby and project organisers feel an even greater affinity to the youngster as the key handing-over ceremony took place around what would have been his seventh birthday, so he is very much an inspiration behind the work.

And there is a lot of that work lying ahead over the next year.

Julie said: “So many people have come forward with offers of help to pledge everything from building materials to teapots, that it has been extremely encouraging. Our fund-raising is continuing and we have £700 on JustGiving so far and 911 people on our Friends page.

“But we will be wanting even more community involvement and plan to hold an open day for everyone to see the premises in their raw state to encourage more pledges.

“Before that though there are two jobs to do: get the place waterproof and then tackle a dry rot problem before it spreads to the main building.

“For the roof Dasco from Ince and Safeseal Roofing are offering their labour free of charge to carry out temporary roof repairs which will keep out the elements for three to four years and, hopefully, give us enough time to fund-raise for a permanent solution. Once that’s done Peter Cox from Liverpool can tackle the rot.”

The next phase would be an upgrade of the annexe: attending to the brickwork, converting the kitchen and installing a disabled toilet. It is hoped that that would be complete within around six months, after which the main chapel will be sealed off so work can begin in earnest there while the annexe can start functioning for meet-ups and refreshments.

Roof aside, the schedule for the chapel itself is mainly cosmetic: decorating, window replacements and general cleaning.

Julie said: “We are extremely grateful to companies which are already committed to the project. Dasco, John Heaton and Sean Stockton are each making contributions and we certainly wouldn’t be able to get very far without them.

“And Gap Plastics are going to give the place a new door in the next week.

“But all donations of time, labour and materials are crucial to the scheme’s success, however great or small. This really is Hindley’s version of DIY SOS. We would also like to thank Wigan Council for their help and cooperation.”

ENV Digital is also setting up a website for the CIC which will promote the project and encourage further help.

And to get the project up and running, the vicar of Hindley St Peter’s Church, Rev Carol Close, attended the chapel at the weekend to perform a blessing ceremony.

Presley’s grandma Julie Stockton said: “We are ecstatic that this project which will bring the community together is happening and that people are remembering Presley in the process. We will be getting involved in the fund-raising ourselves.”

To donate go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/friendsofhindleycemetery