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Creative use of church buildings celebrated at second National Church Awards

07 November 2023

National Churches Trust

St Marylebone Parish Church, London, which won Church of the Year

St Marylebone Parish Church, London, which won Church of the Year

CHURCHES in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland have been recognised in a national award ceremony for their architecture, maintenance work, volunteering, and tourism efforts.

The National Church Awards — which the organisers describe as the “BAFTAs for churches” — were presented by the comedian and actor Hugh Dennis, and Canon Ann Easter, a former chaplain to the late Queen, at Mercers’ Hall, London, on Monday evening.

National Churches TrustHugh Dennis and Canon Ann Easter

The awards — in their second year — are organised by the National Churches Trust in partnership with the Pilgrim Trust, Marsh Charitable Trust, and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association. The Duke of Gloucester, who is vice-patron of the National Churches Trust, attended the ceremony.

Seventeen churches were selected as winners among 45 finalists, narrowed down from more than 200 churches which had been nominated in June.

Besides celebrating the buildings themselves, including eco-churches, the awards recognised the creative use of these spaces, such as the establishment of foodbanks and community cafés, the hosting of festivals and concerts, and the running of tower tours.

Judges unanimously awarded the top prize of Church of the Year to St Marylebone Parish Church, in London, which also won awards in other categories. Sir Philip Rutnam, who chairs the trust, explained that the church “epitomises everything that a successful, sustainable, and open church should be. This is a church that is working so hard to look after and further develop their building, harnesses the skill and enthusiasm of volunteers, creates a wonderful warm welcome, and does simply amazing work with the local community, many of whom are struggling.

“It provides worship, vital services, and is a place that is rooted in its location; available to all. They have an excellent music programme, a really cool arts space, and such a breadth of activities . . . for local people and . . . visitors. There is a lot here that we can all learn from.”

The King of Prussia Gold Medal, which celebrates high-quality conservation or repairs, was awarded to Saltaire United Reformed Church, in West Yorkshire. St John’s, Waterloo, in London (News, 7 October 2022), received the Presidents’ Award for the best new addition, including reordering, extensions, or alterations.

Llangunnor Parish Church, in Carmarthenshire, was the overall winner of the Nayler Awards for Excellence in Church Maintenance. There were also winners in each nation: in England, St Michael and All Angels, Bishop’s Cleeve, in Gloucestershire; in Scotland, St Ann’s, Dunbar, in East Lothian; and, in Northern Ireland, St Mary’s Altinure, in County Derry.

St Hilda’s, Redcar, in North Yorkshire, topped the church and community volunteer awards in partnership with the Marsh Charitable Trust. Other winners were, in Wales, Holy Trinity, Trefnant, in Denbighshire; in Scotland, St James the Great, Stonehaven, in Aberdeenshire; and, in Northern Ireland, Christ Church, Londonderry, in County Derry.

The overall winner in the Open for Visitors Awards was the Providence Methodist Chapel, Throwleigh, in Devon. Other winners were, also in England, St Marylebone Parish Church, in London; in Wales, St Peter’s, Llanbedr Dyffryn, in Denbighshire; and, in Northern Ireland, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Strabane, in County Tyrone.

An associate director at Matthew Lloyd Architects, Alex Spicer, won Young Architect of the Year for his work on St Mary the Virgin, Walthamstow, in east London.

National Churches TrustA gallery in St Marylebone, London

Finally, a special Friends Award was given to St Mary’s, South Stoneham, in Hampshire. The church, which has recently received funding from the National Churches Trust, was nominated by trust members to receive an additional grant of £10,000. Churches were required to make a short film submission.

Opening the ceremony, Mr Dennis said: “Churches have an amazing story to tell. They are some of our most beautiful and historically important places — they literally hold the history of this country. Just as importantly, they are there day-in day-out, providing vital help to local people and communities, and available whenever they are needed.

“But they need help. With the future of many uncertain and under threat, there has never been a more important time to celebrate the UK’s churches.”

Canon Easter said that churches were also “just a place to be. To take time, sit quietly, say a prayer, and re-set for what’s next in your life.”

To celebrate the winners, a “Visit Your Finalists Day” is being held on Saturday 18 November.

The chief executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker, said: “Through our research, we know that churches contribute £55 billion towards economic and social good each year, and, reading through the submissions, it was clear that churches are active across the UK in using their buildings to bring communities together, and to help them to thrive.”

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