By John McGlynn of Blackpool
When I learned, about 10 to 12 years ago, that the Roman Catholic Diocese planned a quick sale of the Thanksgiving Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, at Whinney Heys Road, to a developer I was horrified at the prospect of demolition.
I eventually visited the Bishop’s office in Lancaster, when I was fully acquainted with the problems many religions faced of a surplus of places of worship, and a shortage of priests and diminishing congregations.
I well recall, as a young boy, my own family and many others, together with Bishop Pearson, working hard to raise money for the construction.
The Eaves family gave the site to the Diocese. I explained to the Bishop’s secretary I thought at the very least they should have advertised the building for sale, in case other denominations, Christian and others, might want to take advantage of such a splendid building, in such a prominent position.
Before leaving, I said I would gladly buy it myself so save it for the town. I was asked how much I would offer, and I responded upon receipt of a site plan I would make my offer, this was because it was physically linked to the adjacent convent building.
After several reminders, nothing was forthcoming. It had been my plan to convert it into a creche that could have been used by nearby working mothers, not least of which the staff at nearby hospitals.
A local friend managed to get the building listed (grade two star) rather quickly, which blocked the chance of a quick sale to a developer. Next stage was a sale/gift by the Diocese to the Historic Chapels Trust, which preserves valuable redundant places of worship.
As part of a committee, I visited the Lottery offices in Manchester with two HCT officers to present our case for funds for restoration.
While we were rejected, we were offered advice. And while financial help was forthcoming from English Heritage, and other sources, it was not enough for full restoration.
The shrine remains on English Heritage’s ‘At Risk Register’. According to the register urgent repairs and refurbishment have been implemented with the help of English Heritage.
I resigned from the committee, but know others are interested and sincerely hope that some strong, energetic and capable people can save the shrine for the town and for the many people who have expressed interest in its use.
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