Residents are fighting Merton Council’s decision to gift a community hall to a small ‘Evangelical’ church to make room for a new school.
Elim Pentecostal Church will be relocating to Merton Hall on Merton Road, with the council paying for a £4 million refurbishment which will involve the demolition of large parts of the historic building.
Community activists Dan Goode and Sara Sharp have condemned the council’s approval of the freehold swap as they feel the community is not be given an adequate replacement.
Sara Sharp said: “They’re moving from a warehouse to a palace and we’re moving from a palace to – what would you call that?
“The replacement is not the same calibre at all.
“It’s not even a whole building, it’s not a hall, it has no history, no character or soul.
“Merton Hall is affordable as well and that’s a really important part of it.”
Residents were upset to discover their replacement for the hall is the ground floor of the old police station on Pincott Road, which they say has a capacity of 40 people, a fraction of Merton Hall’s capacity.
The council confirmed the freehold swap last month despite Merton Hall being gifted to the community in 1899 by architect John Innis.
It has been in the hands of Merton residents ever since and has been widely used for private events and public clubs, seeing 350 people a week through its door.
The council will be footing the bill for £4 million worth of renovation to provide the church with a creche, café and a windowless auditorium as they say the current hall is too small for the church to carry out musical activities.
Dan Goode, 45, from Merton Matters said: “You have a situation whereby the council can’t keep on top of its own housekeeping, its facing central government cuts and yet it’s willing to invest £4 million in 130 people.
“Why is this group not being given like for like?”
He also voiced his concerns over the churches ‘homophobic’ beliefs causing a divide within the community.
The Elim Fellowships website states: “We believe that sexual purity is a necessary expression for all of God’s children and requires abstinence from adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, or other sexual relationships or practices forbidden by Scripture.”
Mr Goode added the campaigners had no issues with the church being rehomed as the council were forcing them out of their current site, but they were concerned with how it has been done.
The Elim’s current site on High Path will be used to build the Harris Academy, which will provide 1150 places for students within the borough, for which no planning application has yet been submitted.
A Merton Council spokesperson said: “Building a new school anywhere in London is a challenge and after much research and considering a variety of options, we identified the South Wimbledon site to be the best site we have available which will allow us to meet our legal duty to provide enough school places.”