AN 18th-century church south of Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, is to host concerts, wedding receptions, and barn dances, after ambitious plans to redesign the building were approved by the Consistory Court of Gloucester diocese.
The Team Rector of St Philip and St James, Leckhampton, in the South Cheltenham Team Ministry, the Revd Nick Davies, said that the PCC had been working for four years to redevelop the 18th-century building to be better equipped for its 200-strong congregation and the wider community.
It had already recently spent more than £300,000 replacing the roof. “That is a lot of money to spend on a building which we were only able to use for a few hours a week,” he said. “We are really excited to have received approval for our plans, which will allow us to open up this wonderful Victorian building to the whole community.”
The Diocesan Chancellor, the Worshipful June Rodgers, granted a faculty for “very substantial alterations” to the interior of the church and some exterior work. This included replacing the pews with flexible seating, installing a new heated wooden floor in the nave, a small servery and office in “self-standing pods” at the back of the church, and glass-cased meeting rooms above. A new entrance at the west end is to connect the building to a landscaped piazza and car park.
Her judgment commended the efforts of the PCC in progressing the plans, and their sensitivity when responding to complaints raised primarily by the Victorian Society.
“I am well aware that delays for such consideration have been frustrating to the petitioners, but it is a mark of the architectural importance of their church, both in the diocese and nationally, that the Victorian Society, and others, have become involved, and therefore I have had to give this difficult faculty thoughtful consideration.”
Chancellor Rodgers’s judgment did, however, criticise “professional objectors” who “can be indifferent to the actual use of a church. . . Artistic heritage, on occasions, can appear to become [a] professional middle-class substitute for religious observance or belief.”
Mr Davies said that the PCC had altered its plans in consultation with conservation groups, a residents’ association, and the wider community: “These are important changes balancing the heritage we have received and the needs of our congregation and wider community in the 21st century.
“This will remain a beautiful, awe-inspiring, sacred building, but one which many more people will be able to use and enjoy daily.”
He estimated that the project would cost about £2.5 million, which is to be funded by the sale of a neighbouring property, and a fundraising campaign involving grant-making trusts, and donations from the congregation and wider community. Work is due to begin next spring.
Chancellor Rogers also referred to the Consistory Court’s decision earlier this year to remove pews from Bath Abbey, which is Grade I listed. She reasoned that Bath Abbey had “a stronger case against the removal of pews than in this present case, yet the removal of those pews was sanctioned” and that the current case was “an ‘all or nothing’ application. Tinkering would be the worst of all worlds.”
The decision was “wonderful news” for the future of church buildings, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, said.
The judgment follows the publication of the Taylor review last year, which assessed the sustainability of the 15,700 Church of England churches — 78 per cent of which are listed (News, 22 December).
Churches should prepare for reduced reliance on government funding, it said. It called for a “cultural shift”, whereby communities contributed to their upkeep.
Mr Davies concluded: “As a Church, we need to rediscover the cathedral model of sacred and secular activities happening under the one roof, and the rumour of a God who invites everyone to the party and won’t take no for an answer.”