Visitor centre and hostel planned for historic Sheffield chapel
A historic Sheffield chapel with links to the Great Flood would become a visitor centre and hostel, under new plans being drawn up.
The owner of Loxley United Reformed Church also wants to build a respite centre for disabled children in the grounds, which in a heartwarming gesture would be named in memory of his niece who tragically died aged just eight.
Mohammed Jameel Ali says he hopes to submit plans to restore the Grade II*-listed church and create the respite centre with room for up to six children within the next two months.
He told how he and his architect are working with councillors and Historic England to draw up the proposals, and said he backed plans to create a friends group to help safeguard the chapel’s future.
The chapel dates back to 1787 and victims of the Great Flood of 1864, which claimed at least 240 lives, are buried in its grounds, where there are also a number of war graves.
But it closed in 1994 and has fallen into disrepair, being reduced to a shell when a fire tore through the building off Loxley Road, in the picturesque Loxley Valley, in August 2016.
Since being bought by Mr Ali in October that year for £86,000, work has been carried out to stabilise the walls and secure the property but there is still no roof, leaving it open to the elements.
The burial plot is also badly overgrown, with many of the headstones obscured by thick undergrowth.
Campaigners and local politicians, including Stannington ward councillor Penny Baker, have tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr Ali in the past to raise their concerns about the state of the chapel and graveyard, and the apparent lack of activity.
Mr Ali told how his plans for the site had been put on hold as he had fallen seriously ill, but now he had recovered he was keen to push ahead with realising his vision.
“We’re thinking of making the chapel a visitor centre-cum-hostel, and creating a respite centre for disabled children, with five or six units, to the right-hand side of the lane,” he said.
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“The whole site would be run by a not-for-profit trust we’re planning to set up, which would help to secure the site’s long-term sustainability.
“We want to work alongside a friends group because this used to be a community hub and we need the whole community to come together and help us bring the site’s amazing history back into the light.
“For me, this is about giving something back to the community and working with the community.
“The respite centre would be called The Ruby Centre, in memory of one of my nieces who had cerebral palsy and died three years ago, aged eight.
“Before she died, we realised how difficult it was to get good quality respite, so I want to do something to help other families.
“We’re looking at eight weeks to submit a planning application, but we need to work with the council and Historic England.”
The chapel was this year named as one of the council’s ‘20 by 2020’ at-risk buildings which it had 12 months to save.
Coun Baker attended a meeting last month about the building’s future with Mr Ali, his architect and representatives from Historic England, and she is arranging a further meeting this month to discuss forming a friends group.
“We’re working with the owner to try to get permission to set up a friends group and look at options to maintain the chapel,” she said.
“I’m delighted Historic England came out and are prepared to talk but we’re proceeding with caution at this stage.”