CAMPAIGNERS have held “really positive meetings” with officials as they continue their push to save a 170-year church from demolition.

The Birch Church Save Our Spire group has strongly opposed a decision from the Church Commissioners to knock down the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which was built in the 1850s.

Since 1990, however, the church has been empty and although there have been numerous attempts to renovate the building and its 110-ft spire, they have all fallen through.

Plans to turn the church into an arts and crafts workshop with teaching facilities were submitted in 2001, but never went ahead, and in 2003, Colchester Council approved an application for the building’s stain glass windows to be removed to safe storage.

In 2016, it looked as if a public inquiry was going to be held to determine the building’s future, but no such inquiry took place after plans to knock down the church were scrapped in 2018 – though no justification was provided by the Church Commissioners at the time.

Gazette: Taking a stand – villagers staged a silent protest outside Birch Church last monthTaking a stand – villagers staged a silent protest outside Birch Church last month (Image: Birch Church Save Our Spire)

Builder and quantity surveyor Gary Cottee had also offered to convert the church into a family home, and planning permission was granted by Colchester Council in 2020 some seven years after he offered to buy the Grade II building.

Those plans also came to nothing, with Mr Cottee ditching the plans after it transpired the church’s deteriorating condition meant renovation costs rose to £1.9 million.

The latest group to try and save the building, Birch Church Save Our Spire, has already met with Priti Patel to discuss the building’s future, and a silent protest was staged last month as villagers too got behind the campaign.

Now, the campaign group has met with the Chelmsford Diocese as a rescue plan is tabled once again.

Loess Overbury-Tapper, who is part of the campaign group, said: “We had a really positive meeting with the diocese where we made a presentation and had a two-hour discussion with them.

“We now have to see whether we can come up with a feasible plan to save the spire.”

Mrs Overbury-Tapper, 59, added there are more meetings scheduled with the diocese.

Gazette: Support – Priti Patel has met with the group to discuss the church's futureSupport – Priti Patel has met with the group to discuss the church's future (Image: Birch Church Save Our Spire)

She added: “They said what they would do is offer two further meetings – one with the Church Commissioners and diocese, and one with a structural engineer to decide potential openings and agree what would demonstrate a viable proposal.

“We need to do a bit of research and we are in the process of setting up those two meetings towards, hopefully, the end of the month.

“We are not as close as previous projects because we don’t have a plan yet, but we have surveyed the whole of Birch and Layer Breton, so we have got a lot of buy-in from the whole community on this.

“The larger community involvement is the main difference between us and previous plans."

The group’s meetings with the Chelmsford Diocese are expected to have taken place by the end of November.