As 2024 begins, one of the questions for the residents of East Budleigh will be: will the future of Salem Chapel finally be secured this year?

The small Dissenters chapel and adjacent assembly room are Grade II listed buildings, of religious and architectural significance, and the property is a much-loved asset to the village. For the last six months it has been used, successfully, as a local heritage centre, but this is only a temporary arrangement.

Exmouth Journal: The grounds of Salem ChapelSalem Chapel belongs to the Historic Chapels Trust, which took ownership in 1998 after the building had fallen into disrepair. After a local group drew the Trust's attention to the historic property it raised funding for a major repair and restoration programme. But last year the charity announced that it was having to offload several of its properties – including Salem Chapel - after a change in its funding agreements with English Heritage and the National Lottery.

The Historic Chapels Trust is currently drawing up an Information Memorandum on Salem Chapel, containing details of the property for prospective new owners. It’s not clear when the bidding process will begin, but it’s expected to be this year.

Local residents were hoping ownership of Salem Chapel could be taken over by the village, but this would be a costly undertaking, involving continual bids for grant funding. However, the last six months have seen a revival of the building as a community venue, re-establishing its value to East Budleigh.

Exmouth Journal: Remembrance exhibition at Salem ChapelAfter being closed for a few years, the property was licensed by the Historical Chapels Trust to the local history group for use as the East Budleigh Heritage Centre, serving as the venue for a series of community exhibitions that started during the summer of this year. Led by Maria Malinowska, the group has held displays on local history, wildlife and landscapes, and food and drink. There was a Remembrance event at the chapel in November, with music and a talk. A Christmas tree display in early December was a particularly well supported event, attracting 30 decorated trees from local businesses, craft groups and other organisations, as well as some individuals.

Exmouth Journal: Interior of Salem ChapelMaria is hoping 2024 will see Salem Chapel taken over by an organisation that will conserve and look after it. She has already been in contact with the endearingly-named charity Friends of Friendless Churches, which has expressed an interest in the chapel, but is probably waiting for the Information Memorandum to be released by the Historic Chapels Trust.

She said: “It’s the most fantastic building, it’s absolutely beautiful inside, and it would lend itself to music recitals as well as exhibitions like the ones we’ve been doing. It’s just a question of who’s going to take it on – buildings like this are expensive to run.

“It’s such a lovely place and it deserves a sound future.”