Mr Stewart Jackson: : To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what discussions she has had with the Diocese of Peterborough on the proposals for alterations to St Botolph’s Church in Longthorpe, Peterborough; and if she will make a statement.
Dame Caroline Spelman: St Botolph’s in Longthorpe is a 700 year old church. The interior is by no means original, having been altered and changed over the centuries. All parishes that wish to alter their church interiors are required to seek advice and permission from a variety of bodies before a reordering can take place. Parishes undertaking such large scale reordering schemes do not therefore do so lightly. The usual reasons are that the interior no longer serves the needs of the parish and worshiping community. This appears to have been the case at St Botolph’s where members of the congregation need wheelchair access.
The Church Buildings Council of the Church of England were asked to advise the local Diocesan Advisory Committee in Peterborough when the scheme was initially proposed in 2015 and were supportive of the change. The alterations proposed make reasonable adjustments to the building, which will facilitate the smoother operation of services, funerals and weddings. They will also enable the priest to face the congregation during services, provide wheelchair access and offer a larger children’s area.
When considering potential alterations, the Church and the Diocesan Consistory Courts must balance the needs of the congregation and parish against any architectural merit the existing furniture or layout may have. When a reordering is done well it often brings with it very positive opportunities for community and congregation to offer new facilities, events and activities, which ultimately bring the Church back to its original purpose to be a space for all in the local community.