Thursday, July 27, 2006

Demolition time

Within a week or so, the familiar if ugly profile of the church halls on the site of St James’ Parish church will be no more than a memory. Demolition started on Monday last, quite a task on an enclosed site. You can’t just bring in a bulldozer and push the building over.
First there’s a lot of dismantling to be done. Electric and telephone wiring, water and gas pipes have to be removed – once you’ve gone through a telephone obstacle course to find out who’s responsible for cutting off supplies, removing meters and sealing off the mains. The weeks leading up to this have been a nightmare of negotiation and bureaucratic steps required to give the project managers freedom to work.
A significant amount of responsibility for this process tracked itself back to me as incumbent of the Parish. I can't say that anything in my theological college training or experience in thirty five years of ministry provided me with the expertise to make light work of this. I daresay the majority of lay leaders in the local church would want to say the same.
It’s probably more complex to demolish a building than to erect one. After the service supplies, there’s the partition walls and ceilings, doors and windows to be removed, drains to be sealed off, sinks and toilets to be taken out. It took hours to remove equipment and furniture before the demolition team arrived. The first thing they discovered was that we’d forgotten about the roof void – full of seats (some broken, some never used, brand new, over-ordered a deace or more ago), also large children’s play toys (absorbed into the next-door school’s stock, fortunately). The demolition team do their job painstakingly. with care. There’s so much for them to think about , to ensure work doesn’t damage surrounding buildings, pollute the environment, or endanger the public.
We didn't have the money to repair the halls. Several months ago the company redeveloping the neighbouring tower block into apartments offered (by way of compensation to the school and church for a year's noise, pollution and disruption) to demolish the halls, then re-surface and re-fence the areas covered for school playgrounds. It was a handsome offer. The outcome will greatly enhance the sites of school, church and apartment block. Turning the offer into a reality proved a little more complex than anticipated, but at last the job is under way!
So many people have over the past century of the life of these hall buildings invested time and energy in them. When they ceased to have any value as a meeting place, their users moved on or the groups disbanded. Evidence of their presence is left behind for others to clear up. They take their memories and their regrets with them. Their junk is left to go in the first of many giant skips that take stuff off to the nearest landfill - office furniture, old typewriters, computer monitors, a dead video player, endless broken chairs and desks, punctured footballs, and table tennis table.
The halls stood on the site where the first iron mission church was erected on the site in 1878. After the present church was built and opened in 1894, the hall buildings were erected. They served ‘senior school’ pupils at Tredegarville church shcool for fifty years. Following a fire in the school, they were pressed into service as a dining room and classroom area until rebuilding was complete, then returned to Parish use as ‘the Guildhall’. The premesis was home for many years to an operatic and drama society, until this moved on and the long spiral into decline of both church and community took place. The funeral rites for this dead community amenity are left to a harrassed cleric and churchwardens, and a dozen brawny suntanned guys in hard hats and hi-viz jackets.
We’ll get used to the empty space once new railings and gates enclose an expanded school yard, revealing the lines of the school, sparkling with the everyday vitality of work with children. All who lived and grew up with the Guildhall will regret its passing. There’ll be more regrets when St James’ church closes next month. Thankfully it won’t be demolished. We're all hoping that it can be leased or sold to a new owner sympathetic with the aesthetic qualities of this landmark buildings and its part in twentieth century city history.
Much use could still be made of St James’ church by community, school or Parish, but nobody so far, seems willing to raise or give the £100,000 needed to repair, adapt and an extra £100,000 needed to develop the running of the building over the next five years. That’s the cost of a house in some parts of Cardiff these days. But it’s money nobody is willing to spend. If we can’t, or won’t come up with the price of using it, we are destined to lose it. Sentiment is worthless unless it materialise in action. ‘Be doers of the Word not hearers only’ said St James’ in his Epistle general. How sad his advice has not been heeded. God forgive us all.

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