Friday 13 November 2020

Council to give £100,000 to the evangelical bowling alley - to build a church

Followers of this blog might recall a controversy several years ago when our council gifted £1.4m in land, lease and buildings, and a £270k loan to the Towy Community Church Ltd. The church opened a bowling alley, Xcel Bowl, and runs various community facilities, food bank etc from the site in Johnstown, Carmarthen. The next phase of the project includes a 600 seat auditorium to be used as a church.

The controversy initially kicked-off because the church also intended to open a branch of the Mercy Ministry, another evangelical outfit which saves 'fallen' women, and had troubling links to using exorcism to 'cure' eating disorders, homosexuality etc. Also, the proposed debt counselling service based its advice on inviting people, often very vulnerable people, to pray. 

Despite the community work, some questioned whether an organisation which, on its old website, included a 'Statement of Faith' which refers to “the eternal conscious bliss of the believer and the eternal conscious punishment of those who reject Christ”, was an appropriate recipient of so much public money. And a bit tough on the 'Little Skittles' toddler section...

The curious generosity shown to the church was, let's be honest, explained by the fact that former chief executive, and all round crook, Mark James, was also of the same evangelical Christian persuasion, and devout believer of the literal truth of the bible, albeit as a member of another evangelical church in the bible-belt of Carmarthen. James even invited his mate, the then pastor to address full council when they approved the loan.

In fact the council didn't even bother to do its own Equalities Risk Assessment, then again, we already knew that Mark James broke out in hives at the mention of the Rainbow Flag.
The church even formed part of the council's 'Team around the family' initiative for vulnerable children.

A freedom of information request to the council for correspondence between County Hall and the church was refused. I appealed to the ICO but the council came back with copious quantities of fire and brimstone about the terrible Mrs Thompson and the correspondence was never released. I can't imagine why it was such a secret...

In 2015 the whole Exec Board, plus Mr James, visited the site and blessed the church with £20,000 for a new boiler, and kindly arranged for some niggling planning breaches to be rubber stamped, thus avoiding an irritating visit from planning enforcement. 

Exec Board Member for social care Jane Tremlett waxed lyrical about the whole thing. It was particularly poignant as two weeks previously she'd voted to slash £18,000 funding from a school for autistic children. Carmarthenshire Herald's columnist Cadno also wrote a good piece at the time.

Back in 2012 when the funding, etc was first  approved a 'council spokesman' said “Religious organisations are eligible to apply for council funding to carry out work in the community, but funding cannot be used for the promotion of religious activity.”

Of course the church does work in the community, and I'm not knocking them for that, but they also promote religious activity, 'evangelise', throughout everything they do, including the community work, and often with very vulnerable people, with the aim, of course, to bring as many into the fold as possible. They're also building a church.
After all, as the church quotes on its website, "People cannot make up for their sin through self-improvement and being good - only by trusting in Jesus and God's offer of forgiveness". 
As for the jobs which were 'created' as part of the original funding criteria, the wider congregation appear to have filled most, if not all of the posts. 

As with most businesses and charities, the Towy Church has taken a hit with Covid, it's running late submitting accounts to the Charity Commission, and has gone to the council again for help. And with the threat that one of Mr James' visions, God's own bowling alley, might close permanently, and the Phase 2 Church might be in doubt, the council, led by the Reverend Dole, appear to be coming up trumps. The item, which is publicly available, is on the agenda for Monday's (16th Nov) Executive Board meeting.

The council are offering not just a £50,000 grant but an additional £50,000 to be added to the original loan. This is not an award from the general Covid pot, which applies to everyone else, this is coming from council reserves. The church have already had Covid grants.
Praise the Lord!

I suppose, with those fervent prayers for forgiveness at the start of every full council meeting, our councillors might well be afraid of eternal conscious damnation.

My issue is not with religion, or the many Gods people worship, it's the bankrolling of any church sects and faith groups with Carmarthenshire's public money. There are numerous groups and charities which do excellent community work, and who do not have an agenda, and do not benefit from such local government largesse. But this is the crazy world of Carmarthenshire council, and as many believe, Church and State should be kept well apart.

There are too many previous blogposts to link to here, please use the searchbox for more background, and also have a search through the many posts on Cneifiwr's blog.


Anonymous said...

Another "follow my leader" decision on the cards.
BetFred is waiting.

Anonymous said...

You can just feel the long arm of mark james reaching out and tapping the shoe in CEO's shoulder and saying don't forget to keep my legacy alive and give the bowling centre the £100k

Just like in the recent Swansea City Bay meeting now renamed Pentre Awel project keeps rollong along in private

My first impressions of the powerpoint is the project is too ambitious for south west wales in that it will be difficult to entice the academics and R&D businesses to come to this part of the World - these are concentrated around the research Universities of Oxford / Cambridge and London - there ain't no research happening in Triinity Saint David

That why I think the business case was held in secret

caebrwyn said...

Anon 11:00
Re Pentre Awel, I agree, and I also think that the local Universities and health boards have little in the way of spare cash to plough into a shambolic speculative project, especially one which had to be renamed because of scandal. As for private investment, the combination of Covid, Brexit, and the location, never mind the ongoing police investigation, is enough put anyone off.

There is still no publicly available information, let alone confirmation as to how much each public body will be expected to contribute and the presentation was, as expected, no more than glossy artists' impressions and meaningless waffle, of the usual 'groundbreaking innovative enterprise' kind.

And the business case relates only to 'Zone 1'.

We'll see what happens.

Anonymous said...

caebrwyn said...

Anon 20:09
Indeed, the church got its £100,000. The lord moves in mysterious ways, in County Hall anyway...

Anonymous said...

The bowling alley is/was a Mark James special which keeps coming back for more revenue funding so not self sufficient

Pentre Awel on a bigger scale another MJ special is on its way thru the Swansea City Region process - the latest stage it was described as :

1.Worth millions of pounds to the local economy,
2. With world-class leisure, business, assisted living and health facilities on one site,
3.a global example of best practice for life science and well-being excellence.

Very lofty ambitions Global - World class - but how long will it take before it comes back for more revenue funding - not self sufficient !

caebrwyn said...

Anon 14:11
Absolutely right. Every 'MJ special' has cost the taxpayer an arm and a leg in revenue funding and bailouts, including the Parc Y Scarlets stadium. He even gave his rugby cronies at the latter a shady bung or two. Same thing happened in his previous post in Boston with the PRSA stadium, the promised funding from investors never materialised and management contracts were agreed with no reference to councillors, the latter leading to a multi-million pound lawsuit. Far from 'not costing the taxpayer a penny', they were still shelling out millions years after he'd left for sunny Carmarthenshire.
He's a walking disaster, a liar and a crook.

Anonymous said...

If you do read the Church times and who doesn't - there is an article about the bowling alley

Its titled "the only church in Britain to run a bowling alley " the clue here is the "only church" which shows what an exeception this project is and only carries on with the support of the Council

Full article here