South West Co-operatives

The Melbury Maintenance Co-operative

The first Co-op to be established in the South West is the Melbury Gutter Gang - they chose their own name! It is based in the Melbury Benefice, an Anglican parish with 20 churches, 14 with regular services and 6 with occasional services. Up to eight members of the Co-op team up on a Saturday morning once a month to make one or two church visits, The Gang is led by Lawrie Goff who has extensive building experience and Sean Lavan, the Volunteer Co-ordinator. It is Sean who convenes the visits in consultation with the Churchwardens and writes up the visits so that there is a record of findings, which contributes to the cycle of inspections. As those familiar with the ethos of the Project will know, Co-op activities are complementary to - not a replacement for - the work of the Churchwardens that in turn feeds into the Quinquennial Inspections by the appointed Inspecting Architect.

A typical church visit

The Gang walks round the building (inside and out) and the churchyard, checking rainwater goods and the state of the roof, on the look-out, too for vegetation burgeoning in the wrong place.When checking high-level gutters, roof ridges, flashing, tiles/slates etc, it is sometimes enough just to look – possibly with binoculars or a foray up the tower – though the Gang also brings ladders to every working party, just in case. Several members have extensive professional experience of safe ladder use and are aware of the right way to do this, but in any case the whole group had the all-important SPAB briefing on “working at height”. By the way, it is absolutely OK for a Co-operative member to say “You won’t get me going up a ladder”: everyone finds his or her own speciality and their own favoured level of working. They also serve who schlepp buckets of weedings to the compost heap ...

Depending on the findings, the Gang may spend an hour and a half or so ladling out silt from drains, weeding gullies or de-twigging gutters. If they find something more time-consuming such as a split seam on a gutter, they either stay to finish the job that day, or arrange for one or two members to come back at a convenient time.

Here's a typical example drawn from Sean Lavan's account of a return visit to West Chelborough:

...[We had discovered that] the three land drain outlets had been ‘lost’ over the years.  Lawrie managed to locate one of the outlets and it was quite apparent that, being well and  truly blocked up, it was beyond unblocking with the tools at our disposal. Lawrie dropped an e-mail to James Butler [Churchwarden] and suggested, if he wished, Lawrie  would  return with some rather more robust equipment and unblock the pipes. On arrival the first problem to solve was where to get the water supply from for the pressure washer Lawrie had brought along. Ended up running, or should I say connecting up lengths, of hose to a friendly farmer’s barn which was at least 150 yards from the churchyard. James told us that he had been told it was more than 25 years since they were last cleared. Once started on the first land drain, after a bit of resistance, it began to unblock and finally cleared with a rush of muddy water catching Lawrie! We knew there were two more land drains but could not at first find their outlets. Lawrie and Simon went about the search with vigour and after about half an hour of persistent digging finally uncovered the second outlet. As with the first drain the second was unblocked and then, after again having to do a bit of detective work to find it, cleared out the third drain. A job well done thanks to Lawrie and Simon ... After packing up James kindly invited us in for coffee.

Simon Goodall and Lawrie Goff in search of a blocked land drain.

Simon Goodall (left) and Lawrie Goff, on a successful quest to locate and clear a blocked drain