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Bethel battle underway

PUBLISHED: 10:06 18 April 2008 | UPDATED: 20:09 05 July 2010

THE fight is on this week to save an important part of Lowestoft's heritage as a fishermen's and sailors' church is put up for sale.

The Bethel, in Battery Green Road, has been put on the market as a "possible redevelopment opportunity".

THE fight is on this week to save an important part of Lowestoft's heritage as a fishermen's and sailors' church is put up for sale.

The Bethel, in Battery Green Road, has been put on the market as a “possible redevelopment opportunity”.

Lowestoft-based agents O A Chapman and Sons are handling the sale on behalf of the British and International Sailors' Society (BISS) who own the building.

The society recently sold the Bethel at Kessingland and is now disposing of the Lowestoft Bethel.

A spokesman for the society said that a charitable trust in the 1800s set up the Bethel to provide a building for Christian worship for sailors and seagoing families.

“Now there is no longer a sizeable sea-going community at Lowestoft we are instructed by the Charity Commissioners to dispose of the building and use the proceeds to support the seagoing community elsewhere,” he said.

But church leaders at the Bethel are determined to carry on a Christian tradition that goes back more than 150 years and are hoping a charity or other organisation purchases the building so that it is not demolished or converted for other uses.

Pastor Morris Baldry said: “We knew that the society was selling its buildings across the country and now The Bethel here in Lowestoft is up for sale. The Bethel is very important to the people of Lowestoft and we will do everything we can to keep it as a centre of Christian worship.”

Team leaders are contacting charities and organisations who might be able to purchase the building.

“It is possible we may be able to share and we are looking at every possible solution,” said Mr Baldry.

Church leaders, including deacons John Durrant and Peter Power, are also contacting Waveney councillors and Waveney MP Bob Blizzard to make them aware of the situation.

“It is difficult to plan for our special services in the future as we do not know what will happen. It is possible that we will be given notice to quit the building at some time but we hope it does not come to that,” said Mr Power.

The Bethel still plays an important role in the fishing and sea-going community of the Lowestoft area.

It was established in Lowestoft in 1850 and the present building was opened in 1899.

“The Bethel is very much part of Lowestoft's heritage and means a lot to the people of the area. We have a regular congregation of about 40 people on a Sunday and at our special services there is standing room only,” said Mr Baldry.

“A lot of people attended Sunday School and have fond memories of the building,” he said.

Lowestoft resident Leo Whisstock, of the Royal Naval Patrol Service Association, also hopes the Bethel continues as a centre for Christian worship.

“The loss of any church in a community is sad enough but as its name suggests the Bethel had very direct involvement with the mainstay of Lowestoft's former economy, the fishing industry.

“During the second world war the Bethel doubled as the canteen and rest facilities for the coastal forces branch of the Royal Navy who manned the MTBs based in the harbour,” he said.

Mr Whisstock said he appreciated that the present owners would have a good reason to put the building up for sale but hoped the people of Lowestoft would support proposals to save what has become a landmark in the town.

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