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Planning how to reorder

24 May 2013

We have spent a great deal of time talking and brainstorming - now we want to get going on improving our church for contemporary use.

ALTHOUGH I think of "getting down to work" as a pathway of things to be done, it is more like a circle, because, whichever of these tasks you do first, you will still have the others to do before much is achieved.

What is your foundation? Assess and make a robust summary of the church's situation, finance, and ac- tivities, as well as the state of the building. With a new contact, I start by reading the annual report and accounts, the Quinquennial Report on the building, an overall Statement of Significance, and any other material that gives information on the current state of play.

There are many questions. Are there items of note? Are the finances healthy or struggling? Are there activities filling the available space, or is it a hope that changing the building will get something going? Are there significant, and by implication expensive, repairs that must be undertaken in the short or medium term that would interrupt reordering work? Are the reordering works seen as an extension of a stable situation, or are they an attempt to make the church relevant, viable, and sustainable? The answers will inform how action is taken.

What is the basis for change? Most churches, in reordering, are seeking to increase the interest and engagement of local people in the church. Are new people interested in using the church, and for what? Are familiar people asking for new activity or access? Is your plan to have new activities run by church members, or will "outsiders" book space?

Do you have a plan for how you will organise and run activities, how often, for how many, and when? And is there a plan for managing a busier church: administration, budgeting, cleaning, caretaking, and key-holding? Funnily enough, each of these aspects will inform the detailed design for increased use. Differentiate between pressing needs and demands, and your best hopes.

Then the project is a question of steps. The many aspects and elements of the project have to be broken down into a series of achievable steps that are within the capabilities of those planning and overseeing the development and the works.

Try and ascertain if the plans are achievable. How much money do you already have towards the works? Should the work be phased for financial or other reasons? If most of the funds have to be raised externally, a phased approach to the works is probably the most desirable. The first step could be to spend money already raised on the most pressing works. Then tackle other works.

Once you have a well-understood assessment of where you are, and where you want to go, and why, widen your group to include your architect - and your quantity surveyor. After briefing, you will assess with your architect the physical solutions that are possible. This will result in recurring changes in your "plans"; and when they are presented to the DAC and others, there will be more changes. But if you know on what foundation you are working, and the reasons for modifications, you will be able to negotiate your way through the steps.

Expect it to take at least one year to get to building works - if you have the money to hand - but if you then have to raise the necessary money from worshippers, the neighbourhood, or trusts and other funders, expect to add a year or two.


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