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Making all things new

27 May 2016

The winners of the first ever Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects speak to Jemima Thackray

Prize winners: The Space@St Andrew’s in Blagdon won the competition

Prize winners: The Space@St Andrew’s in Blagdon won the competition

DESPITE appearances, The Space@St Andrew’s is not an email address, although it is home to “Wi-Fi Wednesday”, a project that helps local people of all ages to access the internet. It is, in fact, the winner in the first ever Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects, a scheme launched in 2015 and run jointly by the National Churches Trust and the Marsh Christian Trust. It is designed to show the positive impact that installing new facilities in churches can have.

The Space@St Andrew’s, the new community area in the Grade II* listed St Andrew’s, Blagdon, in Somerset, was judged worthy of the top prize of £1000, against criteria of: having a demonstrable social benefit; showing best practice in management and organisation; and serving deprived or marginalised communities.

Besides getting local people digitally connected, St Andrew’s can now engage more easily with the community through hosting a new toddler group, and “Monday Mix”, a weekly social afternoon for elderly people. It has also welcomed concerts, exhibitions by local artists, flower-arranging and card-making workshops, charity lunches, funeral teas, and even a wedding reception.

“The church worked incredibly hard to make sure that local people were consulted on how to make the building more welcoming and accessible,” the chief executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker, said. “As a result, The Space@St Andrew’s is now used extensively by local people, and the church has become an invaluable local community centre.”

The project, which began in 2014, created an open space by removing the pews and adding a mezzanine floor, separated from the church by a glazed screen to the tower arch. A second phase created pods at the end of each aisle, with accessible lavatories, a kitchen, and a utility room. The total cost of the project was £218,000, of which £123,000 was raised through local fund-raising.

The Rector, the Revd Jane Chamberlain, said: This project was never about just putting in a lavatory and a servery. It was always about asking the bigger question: ‘What kind of church is God calling us to be?’ We asked this question boldly and prayerfully, and it led us to a fresh vision for St Andrew’s, one strand of which was reaching out and serving the community.

“The reordering of the church was necessary in order to realise this dream. The church is now serving the community in ways that we could not have imagined at the start. It has enabled us to diversify our pattern of worship; so we now have a monthly Café Church, and a Taizé-style service, which reach different congregations.

“Winning the first Marsh Award for Innovative Projects is a real honour, and I hope and pray that those who have supported the project in so many ways will receive this as further affirmation of our journey together along the path of God’s call. Perhaps, more importantly, it will encourage other churches who are contemplating something like this to ask: ‘What kind of church is God calling us to be — here, at this time, in our place?’ The answers won’t be the same for everyone.”

THE runner-up in the competition was the Recycles Club, run by the Salvation Army in Ilford. In 2014, the Salvation Army building was extensively refurbished: the entrance remodelled, a kitchen and a lavatory for the disabled added, and a multi-purpose drop-in space created, which also operates as a café run by volunteers. It now hosts the Recycles Club, a project that brings together trained mechanics and rough-sleepers, to refurbish bicycles for resale. The aim is to help rough sleepers develop new skills, and increase their chances of employment, removing barriers to bicycle ownership by making the cost of a bike and bike repairs more affordable.

Lieutenant John Clifton, of the Ilford Salvation Army, says: “The ongoing support of the National Churches Trust has been essential to our work, assisting those requiring the skills and the confidence necessary to give them the best possible chance of seeking and securing employment, and enabling us to reach out to those living in poverty in the local area.

“The work we do through this project is a tangible example of how the Salvation Army strives to offer disadvantaged people not just practical support in a time of crisis, but also the tools to help people overcome the challenges they face, and rebuild their lives.

“Support from trusts such as the National Churches Trust is fundamental to the Salvation Army’s mission to transform the lives of vulnerable and deprived people.”

THE Marsh Awards competition was open to any Christian congregation in the UK which is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and which had facilities installed in 2014 or 2015. A further five church building projects were shortlisted, all of which combined excellent management and execution with a vision to understand and meet some of the needs in their communities.

At St James and St Basil, Fenham, in Newcastle upon Tyne, a new kitchen was installed to create a community café; it has particularly benefited young parents, who previously had few places to go with their children. The café also hosts a weekly meal organised by Age UK; and the church’s series of monthly concerts, Saturday Classics, has been able to develop, giving concertgoers the opportunity to meet musicians over refreshments.

St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Hamilton, in South Lanarkshire, also made the shortlist for an extension containing an informal gathering space, café, and kitchen, to serve better the various charitable groups thatregularly use the church, including a family counselling service and Alcoholics Anonymous. A new charity, St Mary’s For All, has also been registered to manage the resources of the new building. Trustees have been elected to develop a social enterprise based around the café.

All Saints’, Hemblington, in Norfolk, was commended for its initiative in installing a kitchen, an accessible lavatory, and improved access. It was previously an under-used Grade I listed church in a rural parish of 332 people, but the formation of an events committee brought members of the community together, and provided the encouragement to seek new opportunities. The refurbished building now hosts children’s groups, craft fairs, and a monthly “Make and Mardle” meeting, besides events such as the Women’s World Day of Prayer, and presentations from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

One of the shortlisted designs included solar-panel installation, as well as underfloor heating, a gallery and kitchen, and sliding doors. St Deinst’s, Llangarron, in Herefordshire, remodelled its north aisle to create the Garron Centre, envisioned as a community hub in an isolated rural parish of 200 homes — without shops or a school — in one of the most deprived wards in the county.

The space has hosted film afternoons, art exhibitions, French classes, concerts, quiz nights, and even a pop-up restaurant. Much of the fund-raising was organised by the Llangarron Community Association, a group specifically set up to pilot the building project, which is now registered with the Charity Commission, and has its own management committee.

Finally, St Giles’s, Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, was singled out for a project in which the church’s existing gallery and pews were removed, and a new partial floor, lavatories, kitchen, reception area, and lift were added. These developments have helped the free-meals service set up by St Giles’s, “Lunch With Us”. The service attracts an average of 50 people to each session, and works in partnership with the Wakefield Council foodbank service for families who are facing a crisis. Other users of the facilities include a jobs club, and a bereavement-counselling group.

Mrs Walker says: “The National Churches Trust works to ensure that the UK’s churches are in good repair, and able to serve local people. The impressive shortlist for the Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects demonstrates how churches can do invaluable work for communities, if they have the right facilities available.”

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