Little Chapel ‘being reduced to a commercial football’

THE Little Chapel deserves better than to be kicked around like a ‘commercial football’, outgoing foundation chairman John Silvester has said.

John Silvester at the Little Chapel in 2019. (31124808)
John Silvester at the Little Chapel in 2019. (31124808)

After six years supporting the restoration of the attraction, Mr Silvester and his wife Eileen announced yesterday that they too had quit the beleaguered Little Chapel Foundation.

It follows a public backlash to the foundation’s attempts to stop its neighbour, silversmith Martyn Guille, selling Little Chapel-branded merchandise.

In recent days, the foundation’s head of fundraising Jack Honeybill and foundation guardian, Chief Minister Peter Ferbrache, have both quit and businesses have distanced themselves from the foundation.

In a resignation letter, published yesterday morning, Mr Silvester said he was proud of his contribution in saving the chapel for future generations.

But the needs of the Little Chapel must always take precedence over personality, so he had decided to step aside, he said.

He said the chapel was in good hands, but it was a difficult situation.

The property was gifted in 2016 to the foundation by the Christian Brothers, who requested that no third party could make commercial gain from the Little Chapel.

But conflicts arose between those who saw the building as a place of prayer, and the 70,000 visitors per year who considered it a tourist attraction.

‘The status of the Little Chapel had been reduced to that of a commercial football being kicked around by unreasonable demands,’ he said.

‘This was both disrespectful and irreverent. The Little Chapel deserved better.

‘My decision to stand aside now will allow negotiations to proceed in a business-like manner without them being hampered by perceived historical grievances.’

Mr Silvester said that securing financial security for the chapel had been challenging.

‘While the foundation has succeeded in its aims, it has been achieved at personal cost to my wife and I, both financial and emotional,’ he said.

‘We have questioned our decision to become involved many times, but no one else was prepared to step in.’

The foundation issued a statement which said the whole island owed Mr and Mrs Silvester an enormous debt of gratitude for their role in saving the chapel.

‘In keeping with the example set by Brother Deodat, they have selflessly devoted themselves to the chapel and have spent many long hours there welcoming and chatting to visitors, helping people climb the steps, giving free tours and generally caring for the site.’

‘They have opened up in the morning, swept the floors, cleaned the brass, lit the candles, closed up at night and out of their own pocket provided flowers for the altar.’

The foundation, which is seeking to raise £500,000 to secure the Little Chapel’s future, claimed the pandemic cost it some £70,000 in donations and merchandise sales.

A foundation representative said it had reached out to Mr Guille and would continue to work to resolve the dispute outside of the media spotlight.

It is unclear who is currently heading up the foundation and its representatives were not available to comment further yesterday. The status of several volunteers is unknown, though Mr Silvester said he was heartened that ‘almost all’ would continue to work for the foundation.

The charity’s website was down yesterday. But before being removed there were three councillors listed – John and Eileen Silvester, and Matt Litten. Mr Litten could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

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