St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Burslem


In December 2015 the National Churches Trust awarded a £40,000 Cornerstone Repair Grant to St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Burslem towards roof and other repair works.

St Joseph’s Catholic church was designed by J.S. Brocklesby and built between 1925-27 in the style of chapels in Lombardy, Northern Italy. Parishioners of Burslem demolished an old factory building and prepared the foundations of the current site. The area was, and still is, an economically deprived urban district of Stoke-on-Trent. The working people and young parishioners were taught how to make stained glass windows and painted ceiling panels by Gordon Forsyth. Their craftwork decorates the interior to this day, which is crowned by Moira Forsyth’s stunning ceiling painting entitled ‘Church in Glory’. MP Joan Walley stated: ‘This building is of huge architectural, cultural and religious value to the town of Burslem and is one we need to preserve for future generations.’    

When the National Churches Trust were approached with an application for a repair grant in 2015, St Joseph’s was cold, damp and vulnerable to the elements. It had been on the Historic England's ‘At Risk’ Register for years and it was clear that the site was at imminent risk of closure without maintenance. The architect, Adrian Matthias, confirmed that the urgent need for these repair works meant that action was necessary within one year.

Excess humidity inside the church was caused by water ingress coming from the higher level nave roof, while issues in the nave clerestory and buttresses was also seriously damaging the structure, the original interior artworks, masonry and other fabric of the building. The damp conditions also made the church vulnerable to the elements and an inhospitable place to host community activities.

In order to preserve their church a determined volunteer team successfully applied for a National Churches Trust grant towards the cost of repair works. The awarded grant completed their fundraising shortfall, topping up a major grant from the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, enabling work to start that would make the building water tight and safe to use.

“Receiving a National Churches Trust ‘Cornerstone Grant’ provided us with approximately 20% of the project cost. This has been of great support to our parish, enabling us to complete this phase of the project on time, and giving us the encouragement to continue to fund raise as we turn our attention to other immediate aspects of improving the building” – Peter Lucas, Parish Project Liaison

Project Description: The project involved stripping back the nave roof, removing corrugated sheets containing asbestos from under the tiles and replacing them with a modern breathable membrane, then retiling with clay pantiles. Further works included repointing brickwork on the naves’ flying buttresses with lime mortar, refurbishing cast iron guttering, repairing defective down pipes and hoppers, and installing lead flashings and weatherings.

Project Issues: Bad weather in the early stages of the project caused the loss of approximately 21 working days, whilst the removal of asbestos from the highest point of the church also caused an issue as the original contractor could not carry out the work and an alternative method had to be worked out.

Top Tips: The church team worked closely with the architect and lead contractor and held monthly site visits to address minor, routine matters as they occurred.

Project Impacts:

  • Heritage safeguarded – The church is now water-tight and structurally secure. It is drying out and has been removed from Historic England's ‘At Risk’ register. The church is also no longer at risk of closure. The project has secured the existence of a highly regarded arts and crafts public building in an economically deprived urban community.
  • Benefit to the community - The church is no longer damp and is asbestos-free so the building can accommodate the congregation in a safe dry space in years to come and will be able to offer open days, talks, school visits and guided heritage tours to show off and celebrate the outstanding artwork.
  • Greater public engagement – Since re-opening, the estimated footfall is 15,000 over the past 12 months. Project completion has boosted ambitions for the church to reach out to the wider community.  
  • Benefit to the congregation and previous/existing users - The project has benefited current users, and acted as a catalyst for new plans to benefit the wider public and vulnerable groups by addressing the building’s accessibility, heating and installation of toilets, and to restore and conserve the large quantity of significant artwork and stained glass windows.

"It is our challenge to engage with the community as a whole and to ensure that our churches are known and accessible."