Funding cuts put church development in jeopardy

THE largest community building in Skegness is struggling to proceed with important redevelopment work following cuts to funding and council assistance.

St Matthew’s Church had been preparing to undergo £710,000 of improvement works to transform it into a community and heritage hub.

However this has been jeopardised following funding cuts from Defra, which have diminished the sum of matched European funding the project was reliant on.

Project organisers are also less confident about securing other grants following the withdrawal of Lincolnshire County Council’s community development officer, who had been instrumental in developing their funding bid.

Reverend Malcolm France said: “We had been invited to apply for a £500,000 National Lottery grant and we had begun the process of preparing the application.

“The Problem is that the community development officer Paul Johnson had been giving us support to get to this stage of our application but now that officer has been withdrawn we’ve been left on our own.

“It’s a really skilled job to get the right description of the project to ensure the application is portrayed in the best possible light.

“We were also expecting £175,000 of European funding from the Coastal Action Zone grant but because the matched funding offer has been halved there is no more money available for us to apply for.

“A small reduction in matched funding has had a catastrophic effect on a community in an area of multiple deprivation because it is no longer able to attract European funding.

“It’s like shooting yourself in the foot twice.”

St Matthew’s Church is regularly used for various community groups to meet and to host exhibitions, concerts, twinning events and many other public activities.

Although it is heavily used, Rev France claims it is not fit for purpose and needs significant works to be carried out.

The project was scheduled to provide a new stage, lighting, an exhibition area, green energy and areas to carry out heritage research.

Following its completion it was hoped St Matthew’s would be able to continue providing its existing community role and to expand upon it to become a heritage hub for the wider area and add to the resort’s tourism appeal.

Rev France fears that without the assistance of community development officers and the matched European funding, other vital community projects will suffer like St Matthew’s.

“We are just one of many victims of this withdrawal,” he said.

Lincolnshire County Council claims to have minimised some of the funding losses brought about by Defra’s decision to halve its contribution to the Coastal Action Zone by lobbying various organisations to maintain £1.8 million funding from a £2 million pot.

It has also expressed a commitment to help communities where ever it can despite the withdrawal of officers.

Assistant director for healthier communities, Tony McGinty said: “With significant and unprecedented budget cuts, reductions sadly have to take place somewhere and we’ve reluctantly had to reduce the community development service that was previously available in Skegness.

“However, we know how important it is to help local communities and there is still support from the county council for projects like this one.”