THE declining number of nuns entering one of the Church of England’s oldest communities has prompted a decision to sell up and move out.

Only about 20 sisters now live at the 166-year-old St Mary’s Convent in Wantage, which was built to house 150.

The convent itself and several other buildings are Grade II listed and the site is worth an estimated £16m.

The nuns have recruited Wantage estate agent Matthew Green to help them sell up and find a smaller home somewhere in a 100-mile radius.

Wantage accountant Alastair Hunter, who is acting as their agent, said: “There has been a significant decline in women and men going into religious orders in the last century. The sisters decided a while ago that because there are relatively few of them, certainly compared to the numbers the convent was built for, it doesn’t make sense for them to stay around in that building.

“They may leave Wantage, which after 150 years will be a sad day for them and the town.”

The nuns have sought Vale of White Horse District Council planners’ opinion about building 160 homes on the eight-hectare site.

Sister-in-charge Jean Frances said: “After a lot of careful thought and prayer, we have decided to move to a new property more suited to our current needs.

“Over the coming months we will be looking for a new home but also exploring how we can leave behind a lasting legacy for the community in Wantage.”

In 2012, 12 sisters from St Mary’s left the convent to convert to Catholicism.

The convent also hit headlines the year before when a care assistant won an unfair dismissal case amid allegations of abuse and bullying.

The Anglican community is self-governing, but has some accountability to the Oxford Diocese.

Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Rev John Pritchard said: “I know the convent is too big for the community’s requirements and they are seeking more modest accommodation.”

The Community of St Mary the Virgin was founded in 1848 by William John Butler, then Vicar of Wantage.

It is one of the oldest traditional religious communities in the Church of England.

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