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Green Church Showcase: Look: no carbon!

05 November 2021

An old, tired church hall was the starting-point for a new, green vision

The Fold, Baildon Methodist Church’s new hall, is used every weekday by the village pre-school and other groups

The Fold, Baildon Methodist Church’s new hall, is used every weekday by the village pre-school and other groups

THE congregation at Baildon Methodist Church, on the outskirts of Bradford, knew that they had to knock down their old 1950s church hall: the tired structure had thin walls, an asbestos roof, and, by itself, consumed half the electricity bill of the entire church. “It was essential to get rid of that old building — the only question was what do we put in its place,” the church’s eco-officer, John Anderson, explained.

The first step was to decide on the church’s vision: where it was going, and what it was for. And it was out of this work, known as the Future Building Group, with a deliberate double meaning, that the church decided that its new hall would not just be a more modern construction, but would break new ground.

“We constructed the first two-storey building on church premises in Britain to standards similar to those of a Passivhaus, Mr Anderson said. The Passivhaus standard was developed in Germany, and describes a building that consumes no fossil fuels and emits no carbon.

This was a costly decision, because The Fold — as the new building was christened — would ultimately cost about £1 million: a sum that took Baildon Methodist Church almost a decade to raise.

To meet the Passivhaus standard, The Fold features 50cm-thick walls, nine layers of insulation, 8kW of solar panels on its roof, and infrared heating. Paradoxically, Mr Anderson said, having a bold and ambitious vision for an otherwise run-of-the-mill church hall meant that raising the funds was easier, not harder. “If you have a grand enough inspirational design, it’s easier to get money from charities than if you just have an ordinary building.”


THIS, however, did not prevent a “big wobble” halfway through the project from the committee overseeing it, who objected to the vast cost of The Fold. “I wrote them a furious letter, saying ‘We jolly well can afford it, this is what we must do for the future of the biodiversity of God’s creation: we can’t wobble now,’” Mr Anderson said. “To their credit, they said OK, and went on with it.”

The new structure takes up the same physical space as the old, but is two storeys high, and has double the space, as well as a fraction of the carbon footprint. The upper rooms are used by a charity that works with adults with special needs, while the village pre-school is held on the ground floor. Both floors are used by the church and community groups at weekends and in the evenings.

Mr Anderson said that, besides being the right thing, building such an impressively sustainable church hall was a “prophetic act”: a way of demonstrating to the community what the church’s faith meant in practice. “We are showing what can be done to live lightly on the earth, and to not destroy the creation which we all depend upon. So it is very much a prophetic act of how the church should proclaim the gospel in the future. This is the new evangelism.”

Every church should begin a building project by first considering what its their vision and strategy were, he said. Prepare the congregation for the additional time and expense of an eco-friendly structure by preaching and teaching about God’s care for creation in advance. “And, if people start thinking the creation God gave us matters, then they will obviously get together to raise money for buildings.”

Yes, installing heat pumps and solar panels instead of traditional gas boilers was more expensive up front, he said, but, ultimately, that was missing the point. “It’s more expensive per heating-hour than gas, but a darn sight cheaper for the built-in, long-term, whole-life effects of heating up the planet.”

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