Sale of school building brings community and faith groups together

A FORMER Church school building in east Oxford has been sold to an independent evangelical church to be transformed into a hub for community use.

Magdalen Road Church, an independent evangelical church has bought the Irving Building, which used to be part of St Mary and St John’s CE School. The building was put up for sale after the school moved pupils and staff from years one and two to join years three to six on a larger site.

The Irving Building in Hertford Street, Oxford.

The owners were the trustees and PCC of St Mary and St John Church, (SSMJ) who were keen to ensure the building would continue to serve the community as it has done since it was built in 1896 and so included a requirement for ‘community benefit’ in the conditions of sale. Father Phil Ritchie, the vicar of SSMJ, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to pass this historic building on to a church that is also committed to and embedded in the east Oxford community.

“Magdalen Road Church, like the Hertford Street building, became part of the local landscape at a similar time in the 19th century. It was always important to us as the local parish church that the site continued to be used for the benefit of all members of the local community and especially those who find themselves on the margins. Magdalen Road Church’s bid not only met our core concerns for key worker housing and for excellent relationships with Comper School, but also sought to engage with charities who were supporting those in need.  We are delighted that St Mary and St John’s CE School will gain such great benefit from the proceeds of the sale.”

The Comper School is a local foundation school with a site on Hertford Street, that provides a reception class for SSMJ CE School. The sale of the Irving Building included the condition that two key-worker flats for teachers be included on the site.

Magdalen Road Church will gain a new and larger home. For the last 12 years the church has been meeting on Sunday mornings at the school’s main site as their 160-strong congregation do not fit into their small chapel on Magdalen Road.

Dan Steel, Pastor of Magdalen Road Church, said: “We’ve been in the heart of this vibrant community for over 135 years and our vision is to serve the diverse people groups around our streets with the love of Jesus. It’s been a big step of faith for us to bid for this fantastic old building and, while the church is about people not bricks and mortar, it forms an important part of being able to serve the people of East Oxford.”

The church’s plan is that the building will be a community hub, as it has been as a school building for over 120 years, providing spaces for community use as well as facilities to continue and expand their ministry activities and worship in the area.

The sale of the building went through a robust open competition process that was in line with the charitable objectives of SSMJ. While there were bids from developers, no other group could match the community benefit in the bid from Magdalen Road Church.

Both churches were founded in the 1870s and the old school building was built soon after for the ‘Christian education of the poor of the parish’.