Increasingly churches are realising they have a valuable community asset that can be used not only on a Sunday or a few days a week. They can provide value to the community throughout the week. Not only that, but allowing differing uses can also raise valuable income to help support and maintain increasingly expensive buildings and estates. Changing your church layout and use can bring a new lease of life to the church, but what are the practical things to think about?
Examples of things we have come across in recent years include the addition of cafes and coffee shops, the opening of nursery facilities, night shelters or even offices for start-up businesses. Each of these will come with its own considerations. They range from safeguarding to licensing and health / safety issues.
In this article we’ll focus on the construction elements, but there are some helpful guides to the more spiritual and practical aspects at this page from the Church of England.
What should you consider if thinking of flexible uses for your church? What are the main risks and pitfalls to avoid?
If you’re considering changing the use as well as the church layout, you may need to consider changing the layout or design of your building. From a construction perspective there are a number of elements to think about, some of which are included in our guide to church projects and maintenance.
Depending on whether your church is part of an organisation like the Church of England or not, you may firstly need to think about what restrictions your organisation has in place such as faculty requirements, etc.
Next, is your building subject to any heritage restrictions, such as listings or conservation areas? Usually you will be aware of these. If not, your local authority will keep details of all heritage buildings and conservation areas in the area. Special consideration and advice will be needed if any of these issues apply.
Design: It pays to have someone experienced in design working with you. A qualified architect or designer will be aware of the numerous options for materials and suppliers. Most importantly, they will be able to look at the spatial design of your assets. They will help you make the most of the space you have available, regardless of shape or size.
Assessing What You Have
Another thing to consider is to identify the church layout you’re already working with. A surveyor will be able to help identify existing materials. There may be deleterious (harmful) materials in the building such as asbestos. Your building may have been constructed with the dreaded ‘RAAC’ roof planks or there may be other things to consider before starting work.
Take professional advice – the earlier you ask a professional, the lower the risk that unexpected costs will arise later in the project.
Efficiency and Sustainability
If making changes to your building fabric, you may wish to think about ensuring any changes incorporate the latest features for sustainability and minimising waste. The materials used (or re-used) can make a big impact on the environment in which we live. Construction remains one of the most damaging activities we do as humans, so the more sustainable we can be, the better.
Again, a qualified surveyor / project manager can help to ensure costs are controlled and projects are delivered in the most effective way to minimise the impact on the environment. From ground source heat pumps to assessing the ‘embodied carbon‘ in a building – there are many things to consider here.
Practicality and Usefulness
When it comes to preparing a design for a change in use, it’s perhaps most critical to employ someone who has an eye for the end user of the building. Consider, for example, the recent Stirling prize winner – Morden College:
This project included many practical features to ensure the end users had facilities that were practical for them.
Classic examples of considerations for a church might include:
- Lighting: is it sufficient and efficient? Can it be easily maintained without need for a tower scaffold or multiple people to undertake maintenance.
- Heating: again, will it be efficient and is it practical for the building?
- What is access and egress like? How will people circulate around the building if different uses are required?
- Can regular activities such as funerals, services, etc continue unhindered if weekday use changes?
- Power sockets: are there enough – why are there never enough?!
Finally, funding may be a challenge. Many people fear the dreaded thermometer of fundraising, used by so many churches in the past! There are many options for funding, again the C of E has a useful guide to some of the options.
Funders may range from generous benefactors and bequests to lottery funds, to your own church body. It’s worth doing the research and putting the applications in. Again, surveyors are often well-versed in helping clients apply for funding for projects, just get in touch and we’ll be glad to advise.
Finally, good luck – if you need help with any of the issues raised in this article, just get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.