The ‘handover ceremony’ for the brand-new Whittle Surgery near Chorley has taken place and the congregation of nearby St John’s Church is celebrating both the big day itself and also playing a key role in reaching this point.
The surgery is a much-needed new facility for the community of Whittle-le-Woods and parts of neighbouring villages as well.
The old surgery building was well past its sell-by date; especially as the community it served has grown so much in recent years (due partly to many new house building projects in the local area). The old building was very small compared with the large and modern new facility further up the A6 on Preston Road.
As this new era begins for the medical and support staff at Whittle Surgery, the Vicar of St John’s, Rev Philip Venables and his congregation are also leading on a new, major refurbishment project of their own.
Chorley Borough Council press release on the handover, click here
And the unique bond that links these two huge projects together is the selling of the Parish Club that previously stood on the site of the new surgery.
That sale has provided the location for the surgery, as well as half of the funds for the church’s refurbishment and the story of how we have reached this point is a fascinating one.
The site where the new surgery has been built was until recently the site of The Parish Club. St John’s Church was ‘planted’ out of the parish of St Andrew, Leyland (founded in 1830 and rebuilt in 1880) and the Crosse family of Shaw Hill were major benefactors of the church.
In 1897 the Crosse family provided a church hall for St John’s church and the people of Whittle-le-Woods, which became The Parish Club. Historically, the current Vicar and churchwardens of St John’s were the trustees of the building and responsible for the upkeep.
In 2015 the Parish Club needed major structural work to a cost that was way beyond the finances of the trustees; selling was considered.
At the same time St John’s Church, a grade II listed building, was also in need of major refurbishment. There were plans to add, amongst other things, a kitchen and toilets to the building and a more flexible space to allow for wider community use.
But there was a problem … locating the Title Deeds to the building. So Anne Harris, a member of the church’s Parochial Church Council (PCC – the church ruling body) turned detective!
Anne takes up the story: “It took me four years of digging into Preston archives to find the title deeds; then I had to find a solicitor to get the property registered and sort out all the legalities for selling the plot’.
“The title deeds, dated 1898, were finally discovered in the archives, and they stated that in the event of the hall being beyond repair it was to be sold and the proceeds used for the refurbishment of St John’s Church.”
The club was then put up for sale and from the outset interest in the site was shown by Whittle Surgery as a potential new premises. Subsequently, and in partnership with Chorley Borough Council, the sale was agreed and the new surgery project commenced.
A figure of £500,000 was paid to St Johns for the sale, some of which immediately had to be spent on the church roof. The remainder is in a fund for the refurbishment, but it is going to take a further £400,000 to make this possible.
Rev. Philip Venables, the Vicar of St Johns, attended the Whittle Surgery opening event and said today: “It has been a long road to get to this point. We at St John’s are delighted the sale of the land has provided the site for the much-needed new Whittle Surgery and to have played a crucial role as a church in the creation of such an important new facility for the local community we also serve.
“Now the surgery has been handed over, there is now a further mammoth task ahead for us at St John’s.
“We are excited at the prospect of our beautiful church building, so important to the parish and approaching its 200th anniversary, is being restored and made fit for a continued Christian presence into the 21st century.
“Many of our parishioners have strong ties to the church. Some fondly remember attending Sunday school and church parades in their youth. Others have been married at the church or had their children baptised here.
“In addition, we have very good links with our two church schools. So, there is a lot of local interest and we are keen to move forward in partnership with all our parishioners in the years ahead.”
Speaking on behalf of the Diocese, The Venerable Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn, added: “This is a wonderful story and is a tangible example of how we are playing our part in villages, towns and cities across Lancashire in so many ways; with healthy churches, transforming communities as part of our Diocesan Vision 2026.
“This transformation in Whittle-le-Woods from the old surgery to this fantastic new facility is great news and I am delighted to hear how St John’s played a crucial role in making this happen.
“I now look forward to hearing more of the plans by St John’s congregation for the transformation of their own building into a church and community hub fit for the 21st century.”
Captions for the above pictures:
Image 1: l-r Councillor Peter Gabbott, Dr Hem Desai, Councillor Alistair Bradley, Councillor Mark Clifford, Rev. Philip Venables of St John's Church
Image 2: Rev Philip Venables and Anne Harris from St John's Church
Image 3: Councillor Alistair Bradley and Dr Hem Desai
Image 4: The Venerable Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn