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Nuns could be forced out by West Malling housing plan

Words: Huw Morris
St Mary's Abbey, West Malling © Roger Smith

Plans for 65 homes near to St Mary’s Abbey in West Malling could force the community of Anglican Benedictine nuns to leave the historic building.

The abbey, parts of which are Grade 1 listed, is also home to the Pilsdon Community, a retreat create for vulnerable people, and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

Bellway Homes is proposing to build the homes across the road from the abbey. Tunbridge and Malling rejected earlier plans for 85 homes on the site, while West Malling Parish Council has launched a crowdfunding appeal to brief lawyers at a planning inquiry hearing next month.

The Abbess, Mother Mary David, said that if the development went ahead, the community of 12 would be forced to move out.

In a submission to the inquiry, the Abbess wrote that the development would “most directly and negatively” affect the nuns and the 1,000 people on retreat at the abbey each year. 

“For a focused life of prayer such as ours, and for our guests, silence, spaciousness, and stillness are a necessity,” she added. “This sanctuary and oasis of peace will be rendered quite useless by noise and visual intrusion.”

An abbey was founded at Malling in 1090 with the property granted to Archbishop Cranmer after its dissolution in 1538. It was bought by a benefactor in 1892, who made it over to Anglican trustees to be restored to its original use. The present community has been resident since 1916.

“This is a destructive proposal for the abbey’s order of Benedictine Nuns whose private and cloistered space is right next to this proposed development,” said David Green, the vicar of West Malling with Offham. “This proposal would majorly hinder their ability to practise their faith in solitude as their order requires.

“Furthermore, the Pilsdon Community, who take in people who are vulnerable, homeless or recovering from crisis, need the peace, isolation and solitude of the abbey. This proposed development puts all that at significant risk.”

Image credit | Roger Smith