Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use

Churches for Communities CoverTalking to those on the front line

Guest blogger Becky Payne writes:

Last summer, I had the enviable task of visiting 25 Oxfordshire churches, dotted all around that gorgeous county.

My visits were so I could write about the physical changes made to these buildings over the last 30 years – but ended up being about so much more than merely describing the addition of a toilet and kitchen or a meeting room.

What I was especially interested in (and why the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust commissioned me to write this book) was hearing the stories of the people who had come together to make those changes – the re-orderings, the introduction of new furniture and facilities, the creation of a modern worship space, or the efforts to provide space for a whole range of community activities and in some cases both.

I talked to the incumbents, churchwardens, fund-raisers, architects, and many other committed individuals who had been on the journey of developing a church and community building project within an historic structure. This raised not only the usual issues when adapting an historic building, but needed additional sensitivity because these buildings are viewed by many as sacred places, and are also greatly loved by their local communities – even by those who hardly cross the threshold!

Challenges faced

I asked them about not only about what they have achieved, but their vision, how they made it happen, how they worked with the wider community, how they raised the money, how they dealt with the authorities, and about the challenges they faced and the lessons learnt.

And they responded with pride, but also recalled periods of exasperation and those ‘remind me never to undertake anything like this ever again’ moments.

Many of these projects took years and involved endless meetings, fund-raising efforts and dealing with various authorities. These were interspersed with highlights such as when a project was awarded that crucial grant as well as awful set-backs such as the theft of the roof lead just after the works had been completed or the uncovering of the unforeseen additional (and very expensive) works.

I never ceased to be amazed at the huge amounts of time, energy and sheer stubborn tenacity that people gave to ensure that their churches remained open as places of worship and that more people were ‘crossing the threshold’ and making use of the buildings. Key to the success of many of these projects was the involvement with the local community. In many cases, the future running of the building is now shared with a community trust.

Special sacred space

Many of the aims of these undertakings were similar, but the solutions were always different and specific to the particular place of worship, which is as it should be. Some involved extensions, others were able to insert new facilities into a west end tower, while others created space in an aisle and, believe it or not, a good percentage retained some or all of their pews. When it works, and is well designed and crafted, the new additions enhance the beauty of the building which retains its sense of being a special sacred space. Many of these places of worship have undergone change many times over the centuries; as one church said ‘we looked into the history of our church and found that every generation had its own vision which determined how it laid out the building. We felt we were honouring this historic tradition by making it work for our generation’.  Even so, one of the major challenges faced by almost all of the churches in this book, was an initial and often strong local opposition to any proposal for change. Sometimes this came from with the congregation itself, sometimes from the wider community. Managing this required sensitive discussion over long periods of time.

Not all readers of this book will like some of the changes described, but at the very least I hope that I have explained how they came about, and showed how they are helping to sustain these very important buildings and give them a future. The intention of this book is to inspire other churches that may be about to embark on similar undertakings and hope that they will benefit from the experience of those who have gone before.

‘Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use’  by Becky Payne, is published by the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust. All proceeds go to the work of the Trust. 136 pages, 150 colour illustrations. (ISBN 9780992769307)

It is available through all good booksellers, including Waterstones Books Online and Blackwells Online Bookshop (both of which deliver free in the UK). It is also available from Amazon.

Caring for churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds

Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) is a unique charity, which supports the care of churchyards, cemeteries and burial grounds of all kinds, which in themselves are unique places that require specialist help and advice.

Caring for God's Acre

Caring for God’s Acre

These special and sometimes sacred spaces with high community interest are to found in every town, city and country parish across the country. They can be very important historic sites, now well recognised as havens for wildlife. Churchyards, especially, are also part of the attraction offered to visitors. Within their ancient boundaries are contained a great variety of plant and animal life which together with their historic stone structures make them beautiful and interesting places to visit.

The most significant collection of old trees in Europe is in the churchyards of England and Wales where approximately 800 yews with an age of above 500 years have been recorded. Three-quarters of Britain’s ancient yews are found in churchyards and not all have legal protection through Tree Preservation Order status – a situation that a group of organisations including CfGA are seeking to address.

The grassland in old churchyards can also be ‘ancient’ having been both mown and grazed over many centuries resulting in communities of grasses and flowers – ‘hay meadows’ which are now scarce in the wider countryside.

Memorials and monuments

Memorials and monuments of which there is a huge variety, from simple headstones to grandiose, highly decorated structures are particularly rich in history displaying information on subjects from stone quarrying and cutting to fashions in architecture and verse. The epitaphs, inscriptions and symbols – factual, sentimental, moral or sometimes even amusing provide a fascinating insight into the lives of generations past.

Sue Cooper from Caring for God’s Acre said: “I hope that this brief introduction has revealed to you the value and interest of these sites, which are important to so many people for many different reasons. Caring for God’s Acre is the only charity solely dedicated to their conservation and presently we are running a four year Heritage Lottery Project delivering advice, information and support to local communities across England and Wales.”

“CfGA is working in partnership with other like-minded organisations to deliver conferences in different regions, titled ‘The Beautiful Burial ground’. This year there are one-day conferences in Sussex at Haywards Heath on June 14,  June 28 at Arnos Vale in Bristol, September 18 in Exeter and later in the year in Dorset.”

Cherishing Churchyards Week

“A special week – Cherishing Churchyards Week, is promoted each year in June. Through this people are supported to run special events for their local community.”

“A Churchyard and Burial Ground Action Pack full of helpful information has been produced and the individual sheets can be downloaded from Caring for God’s Acre website or purchased as a pack. It has information on topics such as the care of grassland, how to keep trees healthy and safe, conserving historic stonework, involving local people as volunteers, health and safety – in fact the pack has 31 topic sheets.”

“CfGA’s practical team known as The Churchyard Task Team is a group of volunteers who come together once a week to help local people with the care of their churchyards. The team helps repair dry stone churchyard walls, makes compost bins, helps with grass cutting and tree and shrub pruning plus many more much needed tasks.”

Caring for God’s Acre is a membership charity and new members are very welcome. The subscription for individuals per year is £20, £25 for couples and £30 for groups.  Caring for God’s Acre can be contacted on 01588 673041

or email info@cfga.org.uk   More information on their website

CfGA – 11 Drover’s House, The Auction Yard, Craven Arms, Shropshire. SY7 9BZ

New glass artwork will reduce draughts at St John’s Church, Silverdale, Lancashire

John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley, is to lead a Service of Dedication on Sunday 16 February (10.15) to the new artwork “Revelation” in St Johns Church, Silverdale, designed and created by glass artist Sarah Galloway.

Sarah Galloway St Johns Siverdale

Sarah Galloway St Johns Siverdale

The St John’s PCC commissioned the artwork because the church’s tall west Tower was susceptible to draughts. The purpose of the new glass screen is to decrease the volume of air within the church so as to improve comfort levels for users. After The Friends of St John began fundraising, in 2011 architects Blackett-Ord Conservation Architecture, based in Appleby-in-Westmorland, commenced on site research and monitoring. A temporary plastic screen was installed in order to carry out airflow modelling exercises and the extensive experiments undertaken by the architects indicated that a glazed screen would make both a significant contribution to thermal comfort within the church whilst reducing heating costs.

When designing the 6m x 2.5m glass screen Sarah Galloway was inspired by themes relating to Genesis, whilst also referencing the local countryside in a semi-abstractive manner. Exploring Revelation 21:1 and the “.. water of the river of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the thrown of God and either side of the river, the tree of life…” Sarah has interpreted these words as a border: the layout of the work concentrates tree and water motives around the edge and bottom of the glazing, expressing the design using deep sandblasting to create lines of texture on both sides of the toughened 15mm glass.

After the many months of planning and the complexities involved installing the artwork, the Vicar of St Johns, Canon Paul Warren, is very pleased with the end results. “Sarah’s artwork looks splendid. I’ve found it fascinating to observe the design in different lights and at different times of day. There’s often something new to discovered”.

Glass artworks
Artist Sarah Galloway has designed and created many glass artworks across the UK. Working from her studio in Pilling, Lancashire, Sarah creates glass artworks for both religious and secular buildings. In recent years she has designed and made the windows for Sunfields Methodist Church in Blackheath and West Leigh Baptist Church in Essex as well as creating glass artworks for Blackburn town centre and Blackpool Victoria Hospital. She has made artworks for clients including Sunseeker International Yachts based in Poole, Dorset and The Daffodils Hotel and Spa, Grasmere, Cumbria.

Recently in the headlines after the public showing in Lancaster of the Silverdale Hoard, one of the largest collections of Viking silver ever found in Britain unearthed in 2011, Silverdale is a picturesque village nestling on the shores of Morecambe Bay on the Lancashire-Cumbria border. At the heart of the community, St John’s Church is lively and well used. Completed in 1856 the Grade 2 listed church was designed by prominent Manchester architects Ball and Elce, who produced some of the most innovative buildings of the time and who worked closely with the sculptor J.J. Millson who carved the statue of St John the Evangelist beneath the church’s imposing Tower. Designed in the decorative style, the stained glass in the West window is by Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster, whilst either side two modern windows by Linda Watson, “The Creation” (2006) and “The Resurrection” also by Shrigley and Hunt and dedicated in 1972 add to the glass scheme.

For more information contact:
Alan Morris (Sarah Galloway Glass) m: 07831 130 633 w: 01253 799104
info@sarahgallowayassociates.co.uk
http://www.sarahgallowayassociates.co.uk

Keeping churches and memories alive at Christmas

Canon Roger Royle

Canon Roger Royle

By Revd Canon Roger Royle

If you are anything like me, memories are a very important part of Christmas. Some may be painful or sad but hopefully the vast majority will be warm, funny and strengthening.

As a child Christmas couldn’t come quick enough. But my mother made me wait. She took me to a church where carols weren’t sung in Advent. At home decorations didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and the Baby wasn’t put into the crib until we came back from Midnight Mass. This all added to the memories, the mystery and the magic of my childhood Christmas in Wales.

Memories also came flooding back to many of the people who, as part of our Diamond Jubilee celebrations chose their favourite church as part of ‘The UK’s Favourite Churches‘ initiative.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields

I wasn’t surprised that Campbell Robb, the Chief Executive of Shelter chose St Martin in the Fields. Here is a church that very definitely practices what it preaches. It was out of the work that St Martin’s did and still does for the homeless that Shelter was born. This Christmas I expect the demands on both Shelter and St Martin’s will be as great as ever.

A delightful memory

Camila Batmanghelidjh (provided by PA, no stated copyright)If ever there is someone who is a kid at heart it’s Camila Batmanghalidjh, the colourful founder and director of Kids Company. Her favourite church is one I also love and have often worshipped in, Sherborne Abbey. In choosing that church Camila had a delightful memory. When she was at boarding school she used to hide in a cupboard so she didn’t have to go to church.

The late Rosalind Runcie, whose husband was Archbishop of Canterbury said once that too much religion made her go pop. Well that certainly isn’t true of a good friend of mine, Gloria Hunniford. In selecting her favourite church she chose one to which as a child, she went five times a Sunday, St Mark’s Portadown. It was also the church where her daughter Caron, who died of cancer, was christened. So, for her, St Mark’s will bring back sadness as well as joy.

Keeping churches alive

May I wish you many happy memories this Christmas and again thank the many Friends and supporters of the National Churches Trust for all that they do. It is through their support that many of the churches people remember with affection from the past are kept alive today.

Roger Royle presents the Christmas Day early morning programme on BBC Radio 2 

If you would like to support the work of the National Churches Trust, please visit our website.

Cherish the Chapel

by Huw Edwards, journalist and broadcaster
Published in 2012 in The National Churches Trust Annual Review

Huw Edwards

Huw Edwards

The chapels of Wales need friends.

The past half-century, a period of base neglect, has seen hundreds of cherished buildings flattened without heed.

There is a bitter twist at work here. Wales has suffered a campaign of cultural sacking approved by elected and unelected officials; but many of those responsible have had little understanding of the scale of the loss.

In Wales today, those tokens of Plantagenet savagery, the medieval castles, are cared for with a vigilance approaching the fetishistic. We willingly revere these symbols of our oppression. And it follows that our national authorities accord them maximum listed protection.

Chapel

Chapel

In this same Wales, those heroic symbols of our Nonconformist freedom, the chapels, are neglected, disdained and spurned. They lie rotting and decomposed in town centres, casually vandalised. They are invisible and irrelevant. They seldom pierce the people’s awareness, but when they do, they provoke repugnance and scorn.

The popular memory is pitifully short. Even those who vilify religion praise the chapels for enriching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. These places of worship gave essential literacy and numeracy skills to children and adults; they provided the poor with food and clothing; and they operated an effective welfare system while state and parish dodged their duties.

In rejecting the state religion of England, the Nonconformist movement offered a new definition of Welshness. It really is no exaggeration to say that the spirit of the chapels shaped modern Wales.

But modern Wales doesn’t want to know.

These days, the fact of that transformative contribution is an irritant. The chapels are unsettling reminders of a very different past. To acknowledge the greatness of their contribution is to invite inescapable questions about their present lot. And that is acutely wearisome for a generation whose rejection of the chapel is absolute and final.

The official guardian of our built heritage of Wales is CADW. Unlike Historic Scotland, CADW does not appear to offer a website with a searchable database of listed buildings. What it does provide is an interactive map which locates countless castles, fortresses and monuments of importance.

Try locating Maesyronnen chapel, one of the earliest Nonconformist places of worship. It should be immediately visible as one of the prime religious sites of Wales. It is not. This lack of prominence is even more shocking for a building listed Grade I by CADW.

Rather more bewildering is the knowledge that of the 30,000 buildings listed by CADW following the national survey completed in 2005, very few chapels were accorded the integral protection afforded by Grade I status.

Chapel

Chapel

CADW’s own listing criteria are clear. Buildings of ‘architectural interest… which illustrate important aspects of the nation’s social, economic, cultural or military history’ are worthy of listed status. So are buildings with ‘close historical associations with people or events of importance to Wales’. The majority ‘of special interest’ are in Grade II. A much smaller number of particularly important buildings are listed Grade II*. Buildings of exceptional interest (around 2 per cent of the total) are in Grade I.

Nonconformist Wales

A visit to my home town of Llanelli, one of the strongholds of Nonconformist Wales, will reveal the folly and injustice of the listing process.

The only Grade I listed building is Llanelly House, a particularly fine Georgian town house now being restored in an impressive £6 million scheme. It certainly deserves its full-scale protection. Across the road lies St Elli’s Church, listed Grade II* thanks to its medieval west tower and fifteenth-century chancel. A short walk away we find Tabernacl Chapel, one of the most impressive chapel buildings in Wales, also ranked Grade II*. Tabernacl was designed by John Humphrey, whose much bigger Tabernacl in Morriston is listed Grade I.

So far, so good. But a longer walk around the town centre raises some unsettling questions which also apply to many other parts of Wales.

Capel Als, the oldest Nonconformist cause in Llanelli, is given the minimal protection of Grade II listing, despite an opulent interior rightly regarded as one of the finest chapel designs anywhere in the United Kingdom. It was designed by Owen Morris Roberts who also rebuilt Llanelli’s Capel Newydd. Here, too, he delivered an exquisite interior considered to be one of the best examples of Edwardian chapel design and craftsmanship.

For reasons which are difficult to fathom, both Capel Als and Capel Newydd are lumped together with the majority of chapel buildings in Llanelli in the basic Grade II band, a category which also includes some decidedly mediocre buildings and monuments. The historically significant Adulam Baptist Chapel in nearby Felin-foel, the oldest Nonconformist cause in this part of Carmarthenshire, is also considered worthy of a basic Grade II.

A real problem

This lack of consistency is a real problem. In Carmarthen, George Morgan’s Baptist Chapel in Lammas Street is Grade II*. His equally glorious Dinas Noddfa, Landore, inanely accorded Grade II status, is heading for the same fate as his Calfaria, Llanelli, a rotting mass on the steep slope of Bigyn Hill for the past decade.

This is plainly unjust. But the evident inadequacies of listed protection predate CADW, it must be said, and start with the implementation of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. It is clear that successive generations of officials have either failed or refused to acknowledge the architectural and cultural importance of Nonconformist chapels in Wales.

Llanelli does, however, offer some hope for the future. It once boasted 22 chapels in a compact town centre, several of which have been acceptably converted. Glenalla is one of the best examples: here we have a solid Edwardian chapel reborn in 1987 as a community centre and concert hall. A decade earlier, Siloh was the first Llanelli chapel to be refurbished, as a sports and social centre. It has proved to be a popular and valuable local asset. Zion, an elegant chapel design by Henry Rogers, is now part of a major theatre complex which involved one of the best heritage protection schemes in Wales.

It can be done.

The chapels of Wales, those distinctive emblems of Welshness, need many more friends. From the unadorned charm of Soar-y-mynydd, in the depths of Cardiganshire, to the flamboyant grandeur of Bethesda, Ton Pentre, in the heart of the industrial Rhondda. They all deserve protection and preservation. They are all part of the story of Wales.

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