by Peter Cook
It's great news that Eastgate House is to be developed and restored with the help of a Lottery grant. Well done Medway Council.
But it’s sad that across the river a much older building, the Frindsbury Barn, languishes derelict, despite grandiose castles in the air schemes for it to be restored for the benefit of the community.
It’s four-and-a-half years since the barn was off-loaded by the Church Commissioners, unburdening themselves of a huge white elephant. Since then nothing has happened to bring the 800 year old structure – described as the Queen of Kentish Barns – back into good repair.
If this majestic mediaeval marvel falls down it will be our fault – for failing to kick up enough fuss over its neglect.
Only the still small voice of the Frindsbury and Wainscott Community Association has been raised in protest, when what’s needed is the roar of public anger.
The problem, of course, is money. Restoration projects like these cost millions, and I’m guessing that the grandly named Heritage Design and Development Team, which owns the Barn, are not sitting on that kind of boodle.
The company has plans to build houses on a nearby quarry as a means of generating finance. But this is a pie in the sky scheme. First the quarry would have to be filled in, which would take, probably, 10 years or so.
It would also involve building roads across prime farmland to get the lorries through. And local people are set against more housing in the quiet cul-de-sac of Parsonage Lane, where the quarry and the barn exist.
Meanwhile, the barn remains unprotected and open to the elements, despite the fact that the owners told me six months ago work would soon take place to sheet it over.
The council has powers to carry out work to make it weather-tight and bill the owners for the work.
But it says it cannot do this as the timbers are sound and it is not in imminent danger of collapse.
Or put another way, you have to wait until it’s falling down before anyone takes action.
They say because the barn is open to the air, the timbers are kept healthy and free of rot. Well there’s some truth in that. Holding in the damp is a recipe for fungal growth. But restoration experts know about that and have techniques for keeping ancient structures both aired and protected.
Its present state of dereliction makes it look like an abandoned ruin, attractive only to rats and vandals.
What is needed is a properly structured project backed by the kind of people who know about restoration and pulling together the right kind of funding. Schemes of this kind can’t be managed by small private concerns, unless these are run by people with exceptionally deep pockets.
It’s time for everyone concerned with the barn, the council, English Heritage, the owners, us, to think carefully about bringing in heavyweight assistance to get the job done.