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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Refurbishment is nigh for Godolphin chapel

While the work is not yet done, the Cornwall community has plans to properly thank the generosity of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid

The opening of the Methodist chapel in Godolphin Cross, Cornwall, in 1934. It is the village’s last surviving meeting place. Courtesy Godolphin Cross Community Assocation
The opening of the Methodist chapel in Godolphin Cross, Cornwall, in 1934. It is the village’s last surviving meeting place. Courtesy Godolphin Cross Community Assocation

It was almost a year ago that a group of residents in Godolphin Cross, a picturesque village in Cornwall in England’s South West, contacted Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, for help.

They were looking to buy a former Methodist chapel, the last shared community building in the village, and thought that the Godolphin link – Sheikh Mohammed’s highly successful racing stables shares the name – made it worth getting in touch.

“We thought if he could help, even if just an endorsement, we would’ve been very pleased, but when we got the financial support, we were ecstatic,” says Paul Gray, secretary of the Godolphin Cross Community Association.

As reported earlier this year, Sheikh Mohammed stepped in and made a significant – and much appreciated – contribution to the association’s purchase of the former chapel.

After lengthy discussions between the community association and the Methodist church about the terms, association officials hope that the purchase will be completed this month, making them the building’s legal owners.

Once legal fees and the cost of improvement works are included, the total comes to around £100,000 (Dh484,922). But that is just the beginning. Now there is an even bigger monetary fence to jump: raising as much as £500,000 to refurbish the building.

There are plans to remove the pews, level the sloping floor and fit a kitchen where meals for 60 people could be prepared. The chapel’s organ will be removed, but the beautiful stained-glass windows will stay.

“The main chapel has got a sloping floor, which is perfect when you sit in rows, but not for playing snooker or having a meal,” says Mr Gray.

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Despite the large sum needed, the association is upbeat about its prospects of securing the funds.

“There are a number of places we can go to for grants. Some of them are very encouraging,” says the association secretary. “It’s easier to find grant money for renovation than it is for purchase.

“There are a lot of other places that potentially have very big money. And we’re fund-raising in the community.”

But without the funds from Sheikh Mohammed for the purchase, the former chapel (in which services ended last year), could have fallen into private hands, and it would probably have been renovated into a private house.

“It’s doing no less than rejuvenating the village. It’s given us a new sense of belief,” says Richard McKie, the community association chairman.

The former chapel, which dates to 1934, and an adjacent former prayer room built nearly a century earlier, are hosting a growing list of community activities. There is a twice-weekly volunteer-run Post Office that allows people to send letters and manage savings accounts. The building is also used by Scouts, the Women’s Institute, a youth group, and hosts monthly lunches and weekly coffee mornings – the highlight of the week for many of the village’s older residents who find it hard to get out. A parent and toddler group will start meeting there soon, while the village school has also inquired about using the facility.

“It’s not only saved the day, it’s given us the confidence to add more things into the mix. It has had an impact way beyond the money the Sheikh gave,” says Mr McKie.

The village takes its inspiration from the Godolphin family, whose ancestral home is nearby, while Sheikh Mohammed’s global thoroughbred Godolphin breeding and horseracing team is named after a celebrated horse known as the Godolphin Arabian.

Foaled in Yemen and ultimately brought to England and owned by Francis Godolphin, the 2nd Earl of Godolphin, the Godolphin Arabian is one of three horses from which all modern thoroughbreds can be traced.

Although Godolphin Cross’s charming appearance has endured, social and economic change had threatened to hollow out the village’s sense of community.

The local shop has long since closed, and about two years ago the pub was converted into a private residence. It is more than a decade since the Anglican church, with congregations dwindling, became a house.

Godolphin Cross risked becoming, like countless other villages, a picturesque dormitory.

“It would just become a collection of isolated boxes where everyone comes in and shuts the door,” says Mr Gray.

“The building provides a space for activities where people from the village come together and socialise.”

The village will keep Sheikh Mohammed informed of its progress and aims to create a long-lasting tribute.

“We would like someday to be able to mark that. We’ve talked about an exhibition space in the building and celebrating the Godolphin Arabian, and even poetry, because we know he’s a fan of poetry.

“We would like to say thank you properly,” says Mr McKie.