Written by Angie Creswick
The weekend after the Brexit vote I attended the IHBC summer school in Worcester. At the conclusion of the event, where community engagement had been a recurring theme, I had a fascinating tour of three of Worcester’s Georgian churches. The conservation needs of these churches is being addressed through three very different approaches.
St Swithun’s Church, completed in 1736, is Grade I listed and is located in the heart of the city centre. The adjacent commercial activity that paid for the original building in the C18th contributed to it falling out of use as communities moved away from the urban core in the C20th and in 1977 it passed into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Since 2006 Friends of St Swithun’s has partnered with CCT to carry out repairs and host events such as organ recitals during the summer months. They are now embarking on a development project with CCT’s regeneration team with plans to seek HLF funding to create a performance space and hold more community activities.
Old St Martin in the Cornmarket, was built in 1772 and is still in use for worship by an Anglican Catholic congregation. Despite the challenges of a long interregnum without a priest, they have kept up to date with repairs identified by the inspecting architect. This small faith community have a high level of commitment to their historic building and, due to limited funds, have decided to phase works through a programme of smaller projects. Recent work has included some reordering to improve level access and they have plans for a community garden and repairs to the parish hall in the future.
When the Diocese decided to close the former parish church of St Nicholas, The Cross, Foregate Street for worship in the 1980s, rather than dispose of the impressive grade II* building built in 1735, it was leased to a brewery who are responsible for its repair. This imaginative solution has required the tenants to make reversible adaptations to elements such as the balcony balustrade and pulpit.
St Swithun’s and Old St Martin’s are both examples of communities who ‘know and care’ about their buildings, people mobilising to find sustainable futures for them, a sign of People Power in action. In contrast St Nicholas depends on a commercial venture but enables people to enjoy a landmark building both as a contribution to the streetscape and as a striking venue to dine in.
So now I’m back in York working on supporting the 34 churches in the York Methodist Circuit, helping them understand and care for their buildings. Many are historic and located in conservation areas but very few are listed so, although they have the same challenges of working with traditional materials and heritage significance, there is little outside assistance or grant funding available. It turns out conservation is often more about people than fabric so my role is empowering church members, helping them engage with their wider communities and share the narratives of their buildings in the hope of finding sustainable futures.