Friday, October 07, 2016

Digital arts firm behind plan to save old Barnstaple church

The former Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Summerland Street, Barnstaple. Picture: Andy KeebleDetails have been revealed about ambitions to turn a run-down Barnstaple church into a creative digital arts space.

Chivenor-based interactive technology specialist Alastair Leslie is backing a plan to save the former Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Summerland Street.

Mr Leslie, whose work has featured in major cities all over the world – as well as in Harrods, Kew Gardens, the O2 and Edinburgh Science Museum – hopes to relocate his business to the church.

He is working with the Barnstaple Buildings Preservation Trust (BBPT) to develop a plan for the Grade II listed building, which has lay dormant since its closure in 1984.

Mr Leslie told the Gazette, that the church could become a 200-seater ‘immersive performance’ studio with offices above.

“The idea is to split the space; I’ve seen a lot of buildings and this is one of the few that would work,” he said.

“We have got as far as drawing up plans – so far everything seems to be going in the right direction. 

“It has a good opportunity; it could facilitate a lot of creative industries. I’m keen to showcase that kind of talent in Barnstaple – that there is a facility here and the ambition to do something.”

But any plans to save the 160-year-old church hinge on the success of a £900,000 BBPT bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Earlier this year, the trust produced an ‘options appraisal’ for the building, owned by the Diocese of Plymouth and administered by the local parish.

BBPT chairman Jonathan Rodney-Jones said the diocese’s plans to demolish the church had been put on hold pending the success of the funding bid.

“This really is a last ditch effort,” he said.

“We need to raise £18,000 to get to the point where we can put in a stage one Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid. We would be looking to do this around March next year and would expect a decision in June.”

If successful the trust would use the stage one money to put together its stage two bid.
“We need to produce an economic development study for creative industries in North Devon,” added Mr Rodney-Jones. 

“We also need to do some more feasibility work based around Alastair’s ideas.”

The trust has already been granted a £5,000 grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund and a £1,000 economic development grant from North Devon Council.

It has applied for a £10,000 Resilient Heritage ‘start-up’ grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund

“If all goes ahead we could get the cash and get the go-ahead in early 2018,” said Mr Rodney-Jones. 

“The church seems quite happy with that timescale and we are trying to encourage them to see the space as a use for concerts etc.
“They have put their application to demolish on hold – they are giving us a chance to raise that money. This really is a last ditch effort.”

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