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Blueprint for £1.5m Handbridge community centre lodged with council

Sale of 'Boys' Club' opposite St Mary's Church will go towards community centre marking the end of an era  

A computer generated image of what St Mary's Handbridge Centre will look like.

A £1.5m vision to create a church hall and community hub is one step closer after a planning application was lodged.

The exciting project at St Mary’s-Without-the-Walls Church in Handbridge would see the dilapidated church hall replaced with a bigger and better building.

There is a promise to serve the needs of the church and the community at large following extensive public consultation.

St Mary’s Handbridge Centre will comprise a main hall, two community rooms, a cafe and a medical consultation room for the adjacent surgery, which has limited space, together with a 32-space car park.

The vision is supported by Chester MP Chris Matheson, Cheshire West and Chester Council, The Westminster Foundation and Eaton Estate (Duke of Westminster), who own the site, and the NHS.

The existing St Mary's church hall in Handbridge.

Church warden Ted Graham, who has driven the project, wrote in the foreword to a document accompanying the planning application: “The existing church hall is over 50 years old and in need of constant repair. The hall is used by members of the congregation for church activities and by members of local community groups on a regular basis.

“Essentially, however, the hall is one large room with a parish office, a small kitchen and toilets. A larger building is required with flexible spaces to meet the increasing needs of the church and the local community.

“The aim is to build a new centre which will be the focal point of the community and the whole work of the church in the area of Handbridge and wider locality.”

St Marys-Without-the-Walls Church in Handbridge.

He told The Chronicle fundraising was still taking place including targeting various charities. “We have got a good way and we are hopeful we will meet the target for next year,” he said.

“There’s nothing like it south of the river. We have done the business plan and we know it will be successful.”

Meanwhile, the building opposite St Mary’s Church, historically known as the Boys’ Club, from which Chester Youth Club has run for many years, has now closed marking the end of an era. Eaton Estate building will sell the grade II-listed 1895 building with all proceeds going towards the new community centre.

The youth club has been offered the use of the new community centre. However, youth club manager Linda Eite said she intended to merge with Upton Youth Club allowing access to facilities in Wealstone Lane. She conceded Chester Youth Club had not met ‘for a year’ and would ‘go insolvent’.

Linda Eite, manager of Chester Youth Club, outside the building in Overleigh Road.

Edwin Christmas, estate director, Eaton Estate, said: “The Eaton Estate has reluctantly taken the difficult decision to end the lease at Number 1, Overleigh Road, resulting in the closure of Chester Youth Club. This follows joint attempts by the Eaton Estate and the chair of trustees at the youth club to keep the amenity going over a number of years but sadly it has proved not to be possible.

“Following the property being returned to the estate in May, we are committed to selling the building and donating all of the proceeds to the proposed development of a new community centre at St Mary’s Without-the-Walls, also in Handbridge, which will provide a more suitable and sustainable facility for the community.

“We would like to reassure the people of Handbridge it is our intention to ensure the building’s future use is sympathetic to the area. More information on any sale will be communicated as it progresses.

“The Westminster Foundation, which represents the philanthropic activities of the Grosvenor Estate, has already donated £50,000 to the project and the estate is planning to donate all the proceeds of any sale to the project as well.”

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