Church in Southend could be completely demolished and rebuilt

A church which dates back 70 years and ‘looks like a prison’ could soon be demolished and rebuilt under new plans submitted to the council.

Plans to redevelop the Saint Stephens Church on Alton Gardens in Southend aim to completely rebuild all the church facilities, including a temporary hall built in the 1940s which is now “beyond repair”.

Documents describe facilities as having no hot water, crumbling window frames, rotten floors, a corrugated asbestos roof with no insulation, as well as internal walls “held together by tape” and damp tiles “which falls out of the ceiling grid”.

Meanwhile, the outside doors are protected by a metal grid grate that makes the building look unwelcoming with documents stating that “like a prison may be more accurate”.

The plans propose all of this being demolished and rebuilt. The main entrance will now lead directly to a new chapel that is extended out to be more prominent on Manners Way and alongside that will be a new community café and shop.

A nursery and creche will be built at the opposite end of the building and will operate independently from the rest of the church. It will also have its own external play area.

The centre of the building will be the new main hall and worship space, which planning documents describe as focussing on “large gatherings and community activities”.

It will be connected to a new kitchen area and a games room, which would act as a breakout area for younger visitors.

The final section will be health and fitness rooms which can be hired out by the community.

St Laurence ward councillor Daniel Cowan, called the plans “very exciting”.

He said: “Renovating a crumbling building and putting this church back into the heart of the community is no bad thing.

“I think this part of St Laurence is often a forgotten and overlooked part of the ward and the town itself. The Saint Stephen parish is, according to the Church of England own deprivation statistics, in the top ten per cent of most deprived wards in the country.

“It does need more support and more accessible facilities because while it is well connected to the town centre by a bus route, if you can’t access the bus to reach facilities that are further way then they are no use.

“A community shop would be great as well as a crèche. We have lots of young families and with the economy looking more and more problematic, people are going to feel a lot of pressure to take as much work as they can to make ends meet and child care will be a barrier to that, so a reliable service that is affordable with the church creche will make a real difference.”

Mr Cowan, who also serves on the council’s Development Control Committee which will make a decision on planning permission, stressed that despite the many benefits it could bring, councillors will need to scrutinise the plans carefully before planning permission could be granted.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter