The owners of a community center based in a desecrated church hit the council after being told they had to move its baptismal font into the church from the garden.
Errol and Joanne Barrett moved the font after buying Grade II listed St Augustine’s Church in 2014.
The couple faced an uphill struggle to convert the church, with major setbacks from Brexit and the covid pandemic having nearly halted their plans.
The couple even sold the family home to fund the conversion, and for the past 18 months Ms Barrett has suffered from a long covid.
The center is now open as St Augustine’s Arts and Events Center and is starting to thrive – but Mr Barrett says there’s just no money to be spared to move police into the building.
He also said he was unaware moving him into the garden would be a problem – and criticized the council for stepping in in this way at a time when the center needed support.
Mr Barrett said: “The center is a community asset, serving the needs of all members of the community, which is very diverse, very different from what it was 30 years ago.
“Now we’ve come out of the lockdown and trying to rebuild it.”
The church’s previous owners obtained planning permission to convert the church into a community center, and its hall into apartments, in 2012 – and there was no mention of the baptismal font.
Mr Barrett said: ‘When the planning was approved there was no mention of anything to do with the police. It was in the back corner there and we took it all down because the church had been desecrated so it was not necessary.
“We didn’t throw the cast away – it’s still there, we just moved it around, not knowing we were doing anything wrong.
“We hadn’t written anything about a police force from a planning perspective.
“The stonemasons said it would last another 150 years, so what’s the problem?
“We didn’t know anything about this advice. It is now at a time when we are trying to get back on our feet.
“Where am I going to get the money from? Shouldn’t my priority be paying off the mortgage? There just isn’t enough money.
The advice should help us because the services we provide save them thousands of pounds.
“We had no help in terms of funding from the council, the Arts Council or English Heritage.
“The council should support us, not punish us.”
A council spokesperson said: ‘In the summer of 2018 we were informed that the baptismal font had been removed from inside the church and moved to the garden.
“As the building is Grade II listed, consent is required to remove these devices.
“On top of that, the police had become exposed to the elements and so the prospect of damage was a concern.
“We only served an enforcement notice after unsuccessfully trying to engage with the parties involved to get the police back inside.
“We followed the necessary procedures and there was a right to appeal the advice.
“We remain open to speaking directly with all interested parties to try to resolve the current situation without the need for further enforcement action.”