Talks to discuss church's future after 'eyewatering' cash losses

REPRESENTATIVES from the business and community sector will be gathering next month to discuss the future of Hull's most important church after it emerged it was running up "eyewatering" losses.

Holy Trinity Church, which has been a landmark for mariners since medieval times, is losing 1,000 a week and could drain its reserves in three years.

Without money to pay for essentials like insurance it could become unsafe to open.

The church, which stands in the Market Place, has engaged Leeds-based consultants Genecon to carry out an audit and come up with suggestions about how it can be developed.

Their findings will be revealed at an invitation-only event being held at safety clothing and equipment firm Arco on February 11, whose vice chairman Stephen Martin has helped raise funds for the church in the past.

One of the main focuses will be on doing up the interior so it can host more events – from wedding receptions to shows. Funding for any major changes could come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the money needed for match-funding coming from the reserves and possibly selling off "one or two" assets.

Rev Dr Neal Barnes, who has only been in post a few months, said: "It's a problem that's been there probably for a couple of decades. It focuses minds when you think at this rate of attrition in three years time the reserves will have gone, (reserves which are due to) the generosity of people in the past.

"We don't want to get to that point which is why we are trying to head it off at the pass.

"If you get to the point where you can't pay insurance premiums or heat the building or maintain the organ or pay people to clean it, it is unsafe to open. That's the Doomsday scenario and I just hope it will never happen. We want to make sure there's no risk of that happening."

The vicar, who was previously Vicar of Anlaby, said he took a "sharp intake of breath" when he was asked by the Bishop of Hull to take up the post, knowing the church's financial problems.

But he said: "The potential of the place is enormous. You can't imagine Hull without it. I think people care about the place who have no religious faith as such. It is arguably the most important building in Hull.

"The standard thing I hear is: "I've lived in Hull all my life and I've never been in it". The onus is on us to make it a really exciting tourist experience where people can learn something about themselves and the city."

Mr Barnes said internally the church was "absolutely hopeless" with no meeting rooms or cafe. He said a facilities manager was probably needed to oversee the day to day running of the church and if they looked to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money they would have find 10 per cent of the total in match-funding.

Principal consultant at Genecon Matt Wilson said: "We are aiming to put some realistic ideas out in front of them.

"Some things can be done with very little change, others might need some fairly substantial changes to the fabric, the internal configuration.

"We have representatives from the council, businesses, third sector and some members of the community, the congregation.

"We will be setting out the findings and laying out the options that are open to them. Over the next few months we will be working with the trustees to work up a business plan."

The church, described by leading historian Christopher Wilson as one of the greatest of the great medieval parish churches in England, is the earliest large brick building in the country.

The new edition of the Pevsner city guides dedicates 10 pages to the church which dates back to about 1300 and was where the abolitionist William Wilberforce was baptised.

The present Holy Trinity building is the third church on the site.