Parishioners are pushing forward with plans to demolish Barnstaple’s old Roman Catholic church and replace it with a community garden.

Parish Priest Father John Conroy and parishioners reviewing plans for the proposed community garden on the site of the disused church. Picture: ContributedParish Priest Father John Conroy and parishioners reviewing plans for the proposed community garden on the site of the disused church. Picture: Contributed

For more than 30 years the parish of St Mary’s Catholic Church has tried to find a use for the empty Grade II listed building near the bus station and beside the existing church.

A planning application was submitted in 2015 to partially demolish the old Church of the Immaculate Conception and create a community garden in the town centre, but it stalled after opposition from groups including Historic England and The Victorian Society.

The church authorities say have tried repeatedly to secure grant funding to restore the building, but it has not been possible.

They say the new garden will retain historic and heritage features of the old church and will provide ‘a place of quiet reflection for parishioners and neighbouring residents’.

The proposed layout of the community garden on the site of the old Barnstaple Catholic church.The proposed layout of the community garden on the site of the old Barnstaple Catholic church.

It says the proposal is fully funded by the parish and has the support and commitment of the parishioners and local people.

The church was built around 1854 and closed in 1984. A statement with the application said its exterior had already begun to suffer weather damage 50 years after it was built and that has only continued since then.

The application seeks to create a garden that would be open during daylight hours and locked at night, as well as a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes and a columbarium for storage of ashes.

It is proposed to demolish the existing building to about a metre above floor level and retain the crypt – which does not contain any burials – as well as replace sections of the boundary wall with railings or a lower wall.

The existing garden of the derelict Catholic church building near Barnstaple bus station.The existing garden of the derelict Catholic church building near Barnstaple bus station.

Jan Szymankiewicz, chairman of the Parish Old Church Committee said: “For more than 30 years the parish has been searching for a viable use for the building.

“In 2015, we started working closely with Barnstaple Building Preservation Trust (BBPT), Historic England and North Devon Council to find a use that would attract substantial grant funding and preserve the fabric of the building.

“Sadly, despite exhaustive attempts no grant funding has materialised. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only financially viable option is to partially demolish the building and convert the site to a community garden.

“We had originally submitted a planning application for a garden in 2015, which has been on hold for four years, but we are now pressing the council for a decision.”