PARISHIONERS at a 120 year-old chapel behind the Regent Circus development have to hold services in the deacon’s mother’s front room after the old building was deemed unsafe.
The Rehoboth Strict Baptist Chapel on Prospect Hill was built in 1882, and has had structural damage ever since the technical college was built on Victoria Road.
Richard Cooke, deacon at the chapel, was forced to close the doors three weeks ago after the building was deemed unsafe following excavation work on the large Regent Circus site.
The builders of the multi-million pound development, ISG, will be moving in to carry out temporary repair work, but Mr Cooke fears he may not be able to get back in.
Sunday morning and afternoon services are now being held in his 94-year-old mother’s front room while they search for a more suitable location.
“It has been coming about ever since they started excavating the site next door,” said Mr Cooke.
“About three weeks ago they had a survey done and they said that they felt the chapel was unsafe. We had no option but to get out.
“We are holding services in my mother’s lounge because we cannot find anywhere more suitable. They did come up with an alternative place for us to go, but the times were not suitable because it would not allow for Sunday evening services.
“I am concerned about the building. It is still moving on its foundations, and the cracks are getting wider.
“On the interior the cracks are spreading to about an inch wide, but externally they are more like two inches.
“There has been cracking since the college was first built. At that time the council put it right but it left hairline cracks, which are now spreading.
“This does create difficulties. My mother’s house is about seven miles away, so we have to come to Swindon to pick people up and drop them back off.
“If it is completely unusable that will be a big problem. We have got this temporary solution but that cannot last forever.”
A spokesman for ISG said: “We are carefully monitoring the situation at the Strict Baptist Chapel on Prospect Hill, working closely with our structural engineers and the party wall surveyor to safeguard the future of this important building.
“Throughout this process, we have been in regular contact with the Chapel minister and have made a firm commitment to carry out any necessary repairs at the Chapel site.”
But Peter Green, of residents association Swindon Back Garden, said he feared for neighbouring properties following the news.
“This is a great shock,” he said. “I had not appreciated the depths to which they would be excavating. The amount of material they have taken away 15 feet away is enormous.
“That building is part of the landscape, and is one of the reasons that area is so nice. After this I worry about the other houses around Cross Street.”
Andy Marcer, landlord of the Beehive pub opposite the chapel, said he would be looking into the implications for his building.
“This place was built in the 1880s as well,” he said.
“I am going to let the brewery know and see if they have any concerns. We have had a few thumpings as they have been knocking things around but no real issues we know of.”