Northern Ireland

Battle to save Cregagh Presbyterian Church from demolition

Cregagh Presbyterian Church
Image caption Cregagh Presbyterian Church was built in 1928

A petition has been launched to save an "iconic" church from demolition.

The congregation at Cregagh Presbyterian Church in east Belfast has decided to rebuild their church rather than repair and refurbish it.

But one member of the congregation, Stewart Barbour, whose father and grandfather were both ministers at the church, has applied to get listed status for the building.

He launched an online petition to save the church 10 days ago and has been "overwhelmed" by the response.

In 2008 the congregation had originally voted to refurbish the church, but the funds to do the work were tied up in the Presbyterian Mutual Society (PMS), which subsequently went into administration.

Now they say the church is "no longer fit for purpose" and they are in the process of commissioning designs for a new church "which will be a strong likeness of the current building".

Emotional attachment

Bobby Cosgrove, a local historian, described the church as "an iconic building, one of the finest pieces of architecture and brickwork in the city of Belfast".

"It has so many features and it is so much steeped in the history of east Belfast," he added.

The brickwork of the church needs repair and Mr Barbour acknowledged the advantages of a new building.

But he has a strong emotional attachment to the current building and is doing all he can to save it.

"My grandfather (Rev David Stewart) started the congregation in 1903, and he then built the present building in 1928. My father (Rev Arthur Barbour, who married Rev Stewart's daughter) then followed and refurbished the church in 1963," he said.

"I am very anxious to preserve the building and it appears the only possible way to do that is to get the building listed.

"I have the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society on board and they also say, 'yes, knocking things down is very convenient in many ways but then we start to lose our heritage'.

'Soulless'

"Unfortunately, like a lot of big buildings, through time the water seeps into the brick and when it freezes the outer skin of the brick comes away.

"You think of Methody, you think of Campbell College, you think of a lot of our iconic brick buildings in Belfast, they all suffer, through time, from the same problem."

Repairing the church would incur VAT at 20%, but a new build would be VAT-free.

Mr Barbour added: "I know there are lots of advantages with a new building as regard to heating and all that sort of stuff, and long-term maintenance, but they're soulless.

"My concern is to retain the bricks and mortar which has the heritage and history, not only of my family, but is full of memorials to other people who have given years of service to the church. I cannot see how that can be retained in some modern edifice.

"We are hoping that the decision on listing will be made very soon and in the meantime we are trying to make folk aware of it.

'Structural problems'

"I've been overwhelmed by the response from folk who are amazed that this would happen, who like the building as an iconic building in east Belfast, and we have almost 500 signatures in 10 days.

"We have an excellent new minister, and the congregation is thriving. My only concern is I want to try and maintain the building as it is as opposed to one of these more modern edifices which, to me, have no character."

In a statement, the church said: "The congregation is in the process of considering the best way forward in dealing with their church building, which, due to numerous structural problems, is sadly fast becoming no longer fit for purpose.

"At a recent meeting of the congregation the following decision was taken: 'That the church building should be replaced with a building of present-day construction standards which will be a strong likeness of the current building, and the congregational committee is authorised to proceed to get a design or designs which can be presented to the congregation at a future date'."