Affordable seating to replace pews in churches.
He understood that every denomination of the church would have different needs, and that needs would change with the times. Whatever the hurdles are, Alpha are accustomed to surmounting them, which is why the company continues to expand almost a quarter of a century on from its founding.
These days churches are increasingly “multi-use” spaces, explains Paul Tomlinson who has been sales manager at the firm for 17 years, “and so in many cases seating needs to be not just comfortable, but also stackable and movable”. Some of the firm’s most popular chairs are the lightweight stackers which cost between £50 and £100. They come in a variety of styles, from from wooden to metal to upholstered.
Seating projects are not always straightforward
Each denomination faces different challenges to its seating: “whatever seating company a church chooses, they should be looking for good advice, looking long term and they need to realise it’s normally more complicated than you imagine,” Tomlinson advises. In the Church of England, for example, seating projects are not always straight forward because of the red tape involved which dictates what kind of seating is appropriate and what kind is not.
Chairs that look smart and can easily be stacked away
Alpha’s best selling chair (known as SB2M and pictured in this article), which can be found in over 300 Anglican churches, was designed by a European office furniture manufacturer - “a clever stacker with a hollow frame, so light, ideally under 6kg, and cheap,” explains Tomlinson. “Alpha’s high-density stackers can go up to 45 chairs and still go through a standard door way,” says Tomlinson. They have a lightweight wooden stacker (LAMU) weighing around 5kg which is very popular with the C of E because it looks smart but can easily be stacked and hidden away.
Then there are the Methodist and Baptist churches, which only have a few meetings a week and don’t need to move their furniture around very much. “They might opt for something chunky and substantial, prioritising comfort over movability,” says Tomlinson. Independent charismatic churches, on the other hand, are often run as community centres during the week with services on a Sunday, so like the Church of England, they might be looking for something lightweight and easy to stack.
Chairs that last decades
Tomlinson says you can expect the chairs to last decades. In Alpha’s 24 years of trading, they have never had to repair or re-upholster a single one of their chairs, although this service is available. “We don’t have any uncomfortable chairs or any that are poor quality,” he explains.
Alpha furniture provides seating for churches and crematoria chapels, but also for board rooms, care homes, community centres and some schools and theatres. The care home market is particularly buoyant, Tomlinson says, and they are also very busy with community spaces and theatres. Alongside chairs, Alpha also make bespoke pew cushions and have kitted out Westminster chapel, where every pew is curved, as well as St Martin in the Fields, and many other churches across the country.
Alpha offer a very personal service, and they always try to meet clients face to face. If you are looking to buy, Alpha will personally deliver a selection of chairs to your door and leave them with you for free for a month so that you can try them out properly. They will then come and pick them up at the end of the trial. “The most helpful thing was the personal visit with different styles of chairs,” says Waltham Chase Methodist Church in Hampshire. “We were able to try different ranges and that made our decision much easier.”