Community space and increasing use
Churches are increasingly being used a multipurpose community building. In medieval buildings this is taking them back to their original use, when the nave was used for a wide range of community activities and services.
Many churches now host a variety of community activities. These can include play groups, scouts and guides, women’s and men’s groups, keep fit, choirs, councilors surgeries, drop in centres, coffee morning and much more. In some areas they are also venues for vital services including school halls, libraries, cafes, health centres, training sessions, community shops, outreach post offices, food banks or a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Church of England: opening up your church building
Church in Wales: development and community use of church buildings
Doing the right thing for you
The options and opportunities are almost endless. Therefore, it is important that you develop your vision and plan in consultation with your congregation and wider community.
In rural areas, your church should also always be involved in any wider parish or community plan.
Your first priority should be to talk honestly and openly to everyone involved:
- Find out what you have; facilities, opportunities, skills and capacity
- Find out what is needed and wanted, where your main focus should be; visitor welcome, offering local services, meeting a need
- Think about where you want to be in five or ten years’ time
- Talk to and work with partners; to benefit from support and guidance, and to enable you to go further more quickly
Diocese of Chester: wider use of churches and church halls
Action with Communities: community planning
National Churches Trust: involving people
Physical access to your church is vitally important.
Places of worship as public buildings are legally required to be accessible within reason to all those with physical disabilities. But, improving access is not just about disability, think also about people on crutches after an operation, or with a child in a pushchair.
Improving access for all should be a priority. With historic buildings this has to be balanced against conservation principles but with careful thought and expert help, a solution can often be found.
National Churches Trust: improving access
Flexibility and facilities
Some activities depend on flexibility of space and seating, and may require structural changes or reordering of the building. Others may need new facilities, perhaps a kitchen or toilets.
National Churches Trust: kitchens
National Churches Trust: toilets
Support for community businesses in churches
The Plunkett Foundation provides resources to encourage and facilitate more church groups to work with their wider community to co-locate community businesses within church premises.
There are mutual benefits to this. Community groups wanting to bring a new service to their area through a community business should consider places of worship as a venue in which to operate. This is especially beneficial for groups working in an area with very limited or no locations in which to base a community businesses. By operating within a place of worship a community businesses can contribute to the long term sustainability of that building, and do so in a number of ways: by generating income through rent, attracting more people through the door and increasing opportunities to apply for secular funding.
The Plunkett Foundation now has grants available for up to £5,000 to support churches in developing these projects. Interested groups should visit their website for further information and contact one of the advisers on 01993 810730.
Most historic churches are probably already struggling for storage space. Where to put the flower buckets, ladders, occasionally used tea-urn and banners for the summer fair are perpetual struggles in buildings which were built without cupboards or drawers.
If you, or other groups, are going to do more in your building you will probably need access to regularly used equipment or materials. It may not be practical to bring and remove this every time it is needed. You will need to consider storage, but need to do this within the context of your building, taking heritage fabric and other considerations into account.
There are lots of options for bespoke or off the shelf furniture. You should talk to your governing body about things to consider and whether you need permission (eg; a faculty) to install storage.