Church of England dilemma as Lancashire family asked to leave their home so it can be sold for church funds

A community in Over Wyre has rallied around a family who have been given notice to leave a house they are renting from the Church of England.
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Craig and Helen Woodier have lived in the house, which is the former vicarage of St Oswald’s Church in Preesall and owned by the Diocese of Blackburn, for six years.

But at the end of September they were were they would have to leave by December 6, as the Diocese wanted to sell the detached property to raise funds towards the new vicarage in the village.

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It meant the couple and their five children would have to be leaving their family home just weeks before Christmas.

Craig and Helen Woodier with their familyCraig and Helen Woodier with their family
Craig and Helen Woodier with their family
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There was extra concern because one of the children, 10 year old Toby, has additional needs which means suitable accommodation is limited.

Local councillors and a community support group stepped in to try and help and a letter was even written to HRH King Charles III.

The family says the Diocese has acted without compassion by choosing such a time to ask the family to leave, putting the family under stress just before Christmas.

Abi and Toby WoodierAbi and Toby Woodier
Abi and Toby Woodier
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However, the Diocese says it is sympathetic to the needs of the family and says they have already been able to stay at the house far longer than the original lease.

The church organisation also says it has extended the period in which the Woodiers can stay, until April 2024.

It has also offered to sell the house to them – but they can’t afford to buy it.

Total shock after message

Helen, 47, who works as an early years practitioner at Huckleberry Nursery in Preesall, said: "I got the message on my answer phone that we would have to leave our home, followed by an email.

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"I was in total shock, to be honest – it gave us just a few weeks to find a new suitable home for all of us, just before Christmas.

“We know we have stayed here much longer than the original arrangement, but we have just been left alone, paying our rent on time without fail, and we have ended up living here for more than six years.

“We just hoped we would be allowed to stay, it is our family home – but most importantly, it is perfect for Toby.

“He has a condition called Syngap 1 which means he can’t speak and has severe behavioural issues.

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"He often shouts and screams and bangs his head against the wall and it would be really difficult to live in another house with neighbours on the other side of the wall, it would be really stressful for them and us.

"Our hope is that we can remain in the house bring up Toby here.

“We have even set up a GoFundME page to try and raise enough funds to help the church pay towards the new vicarage – anything so that we can stay here.”

Craig, 50, a full-time carer for Toby, said: “Since we got that message, it’s been really difficult.

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"We can’t afford to rent another house as big as this, the rent is reasonable, and we have Toby to think about too.

"The housing association waiting list is huge already and we'd also have to leave the village.

"We are just hoping the church will change its mind, show compassion and let us stay.”

Living in the house with the couple are their children Abi, eight; Toby, 10; Isobel, 14, Beth, 20; and the oldest sibling, Zach, aged 22.

Asking Charles III for help

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Preesall councillor Collette Rushforth, said: “This family are part of the local community but they are facing a really difficult time.

“It is going to be hard for them to find another suitable home, financially and practically, especially with Toby.

“I have written to Wyre Council to see if they have any suitable rented housing stock, if the family has to leave.

"I’ve even written to King Charles, asking of he could persuade the Church of England to relent and let the family stay.

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"The Blackburn Diocese, which is part of the Church of England, haven’t put a foot wrong legally, I can understand their point of view.

"But then there is the dilemma of this family and their predicament.”

Leanne Murray, chairman of the Over- Wyre-based ‘Hope Community Care Hub’, is also trying to help and said “It was a terrible time to receive a letter like that and obviously the family wants to stay in their home and in the village.

“We will support them in any way we can – this is why we were set up, to help local families in need.”

What the Diocese of Blackburn says

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A spokesperson for the Diocese of Blackburn (The Church of England in Lancashire) said: “We are sympathetic to the family's needs but have not had direct contact from them since the notice of termination was issued. A letter has been sent to them this week to ask them to get in touch.

"This will enable us to discuss extensions of the notice period until April 2024 to allow more time to find accommodation and the potential sale of the property to them should they be in a position to purchase.

"The Diocese of Blackburn is a charity that only holds property in connection with its charitable objectives. This is for housing needs of clergy.

"There are sometimes short periods when vicarages are not being used when short tenancies are entered into and tenants are always advised that any tenancy is short-term term, for an initial six months and then rolling monthly extensions.

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"In this case the family were informed at the outset of the short-term nature of the tenancy and that they would need to find alternate accommodation in due course.

"Unfortunately, the diocese can no longer afford to retain this property as funds are needed to pay for a new vicarage in the parish for the new incumbent."