Fergus Connolly and Charlie Wellingham explain how a light-touch eco-pod can unlock a healthy future for redundant listed churches and their communities.
Of the 16,000 churches within the Church of England, more than 12,000 are listed buildings. Approximately 9,000 are in rural or remote locations. The vast majority make a vital contribution to the character of the country’s rural and urban landscapes, and many are amongst our most cherished architectural heritage sites. However, around a quarter of churches have fewer than 20 regular worshippers. Add the spiralling costs of upkeep and many now face the possibility of closure and sale on the open market.
Simon Jenkins, in a recent Guardian opinion piece, stated that the Church“cannot afford to maintain what is the greatest legacy of England’s local culture” and that “the network of parish churches must be the nation’s grandest unexploited social resource” (Guardian 22.10.2015).
FCBStudios are working in partnership with The Heritage Lottery Fund, The Church of England, and The Diocese of Hereford to develop a concept that will allow these assets to look after themselves; to generate an income to finance their own upkeep, and install the infrastructure that will support community uses, without leaving the ownership of the wider Church.
The team behind the ‘Virtuous Circles’ project has secured a grant from the HLF to develop a pilot project at St. Michael’s in Dulas. This beautiful church in Herefordshire is a great example of the sites that are most at risk of closure and sale: it is isolated, listed only at Grade II, and is deemed surplus to requirement.
The scheme proposes a free-standing, demountable timber insertion into the nave of the church, in this case to create lettable holiday accommodation. The design respects the unique characteristics of church spaces as places for prayer, contemplation or congregation. This approach keeps the building inside the historic custodianship of the church, with gainful employment in service to its community, and thus avoids the radical and irreversible process of deconsecration.
Work to deliver the scheme will also reinforce local ties by creating new community volunteering opportunities, training in craft skills, open days, and flexible end uses.
The eco-pod proposals are innovative, sympathetic, low energy, and most importantly, easily replicable and almost completely reversible. They support multiple new uses for any church, in any context, and of any size. It means that churches can remain open and available to all – a progressive and collective resource for every community.
1. Church Pod Concept Diagram ©FCBS
2. St.Michael’s in Dulas ©FCBS
3. St.Michael’s in Dulas ©FCBS
4. Saint Jerome in His Study (1630) by Henry V Steinwick
5. Choir Gallery, Abbey Dore ©Diocese of Hereford