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Not every change is needed

24 October 2014

We want to make some changes to our church, and possibly create an extension to make provision for activities by other groups. We have more than one view on how to start planning changes; how would you advise that we move forward?

THE first step in planning to adapt the church is to find out what added activities will actually be happening; the facilities that you need to serve different groups will vary, and it is pointless to add facilities that will not be used. For example, if no group is planning to cook food, and all that is needed is refreshment facilities, you do not need to install a full kitchen. There may be no need to plan a new gallery if it cannot be used in parallel to other spaces because of noise, access to lavatories, etc.

To undertake an audit of the needs of your community or parish, start by making enquiries with statutory and voluntary agencies and groups. You may find a list in your library, with your Council for the Voluntary Sector, or even with your health authority. A small team can share out the task of contacting each group. Ask them what they think is needed locally; what they might use space in the church for; and how they recommend you move forward. Ask them if they know others whom you should consult. Make notes of all the answers.

Consider the needs identified, and summarise them in a list of activities: those likely to fit with the building's being a church, and those that probably would not. For example, AGMs, training events, and weekly groups may fit, but a sports and social club may not. Does the list include daytime activities and evening ones?

As a church or PCC, look at the results and consider which of the many suggestions might work in the church. Produce a questionnaire for people in the area, identifying some of the possible activities that could take place. Ask people for feedback on what they would like to attend or get involved with. You could provide a small prize, or raffle to be drawn among those who return their questionnaires as an incentive, and hand out questionnaires at events in the neighbourhood to increase the numbers you reach.

With the list of possible activities sifted to emphasise those that local people would engage in, you can now, as a church, assess the physical facilities that would meet their needs. Lavatories and a possible servery may be obvious, but there may be a lesser need for an enclosed small meeting-room, and so on.

Make a list of essential facilities, and desired facilities, noting those without which you cannot go forward; but acknowledging that there are some that may be more optional. Add another list of the essential elements of the building that relate to the church's worship life, so that the new facilities do not take over.

With your list of facilities in hand, start talking to an architect to see what facilities might be installed, and how. At this stage, you will begin to encounter the limitations of being a listed building and other architectural criteria, and your "priorities" will help you to sort out the basic essentials that are required.

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