This month the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse published its report into Child Sexual Abuse by members of the Chichester Diocese of the Church of England. Much of it was committed in the area around us. The report makes horrifying reading and includes abuse by Peter Ball, much of it committed by him while he was Bishop of Lewes in the 14 years from 1977. Quite a lot of the abuse was conducted in educational settings (although not in Lewes) including training schools at Littlington, where Vickery House, the rector of Berwick 1990-2002 was also involved.
The Church has made the usual apologies, but you might think that it might want to demonstrate contrition in some sort of practical way- a sort of “Community Payback”. That payback might be particularly appropriately directed towards children and young people in the Lewes district.
That’s not so if their recent actions are anything to go by. Three former school sites in Lewes District currently stand empty. All are, or were, owned by the Church.
The sites are:
- The site of the former Pells School on the Landport area of Lewes
- The site of the former Pells and Lewes New schools in the Pells area of Lewes
- The site of the former Rodmell school in Rodmell village.
THE PELLS SCHOOL IN THE LANDPORT
Although estate agents Clifford Dann says that the site is sold on their web site a search of the Land Registry reveals that it is still owned by the the vicar and churchwardens of St John Sub Castro church, which is now part of Trinity Church Lewes. (There is no suggestion that anyone to do with Trinity has been involved in abuse)
Strangely, East Sussex County Council owns most of the playground, so they must also take some responsibility for affairs
Despite attempts by the members of the community to use the space for the playgroup and forest school that used to be on the site, even in the short term, permission has been refused and no one in the Church or the Council seems prepared to say how the site will serve the community in future.
A community group is trying to get the former school used for education, church functions a shop and other community uses . The building is wholly owned by The Chichester Diocesan Fund and Board Of Finance. The local church has no ownership.
The group persuaded Lewes District Council to designate the building to be an asset of community value. This gives the council power to compulsorily purchase the building if it is under threat of long-term loss to the community. It also enables a community group to get a moratorium on the sale for 6 months in order enable the group to try to raise money, although the owner can refuse to sell to them even if they raise the asking price.
The Church’s reaction, rather than being supportive, was to try to get the designation removed. Fortunately they were unsuccessful, but this does not bode well for the negotiations if the group gets the money.
THE PELLS SCHOOL IN THE PELLS
This site was sold to Lewes New School in 2000 and you might think that that the church would have included covenants to ensure that the building remained in educational or community use.
But no- the only covenant of this nature says that the building may not be used for the promoting of any religion except Christianity.
The New School has now closed, but its owners are at least hiring it out for community use, with reduced rates for non profit organisations.
But the future of the building is unclear. Let us hope that the Lewes New School is more community minded than the Church.
The Eye has asked Trinity Church, The Chichester Diocese and Lewes New School for their plans for future community use. No information has so far been forthcoming from the Church although the Diocese says money from the sale will be partly used in other church schools. (This raises the prospect of money taken from working class Pells being used to benefit, for example, middle class Southover)
On behalf of the new school it has been stated that the building remains open for community use. Details here
In the meantime, members of the Church of England and others may want to express their views on the state of affairs highlighted in this article to the Church, locally and regionally.
Article date 20/5/19