Marsh Awards for Innovative Church Projects 2017 - Shortlist


Marsh Awards

Six projects have been shortlisted for ‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Church Projects’, a competition to find the Christian congregations running the best community activities in a church building, made possible through the installation of new facilities such as meeting spaces, toilets, kitchens, or through improved access.

Now in their second year, the awards show the positive impact that installing new facilities has on churches and local communities, and on harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers. 

The awards are run jointly by the National Churches Trust, the UK’s church building support charity, and the Marsh Christian Trust.

The awards are open to any Christian congregation in the UK which is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and which had new facilities installed between 2012 and 2016.

The winner of ‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Church Projects’ will be announced at the Methodist Central Hall in Manchester on 18 May 2017, and will be awarded a £1,000 prize. A runner up will be awarded a £500 prize.

The six shortlisted projects are listed below:

  • Community Support Scheme, at St Michael and All Angels, Walford, Herefordshire, where a new kitchen, toilet, and open area make possible a scheme to match people in the community who need help with those who can offer it.
  • Home Community Café, at St James & Emmanuel church, Didsbury, Manchester where the installation of a kitchen and café area provides a community café and a space used by many different groups.  
  • Playzone@Penzance, at St John the Baptist church, Penzance, Cornwall, where removing some pews, moving the font, and installing a soft play area have created a safe and flexible space for children to play.
  • The Runway, at St Michael and All Angels church, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, where an extension and accessible toilet have made space for a community Fairtrade café and meeting place.
  • Soupalunch, at Hawick Congregational Community church, Hawick, Roxburghshire, where new disabled access, heating, and insulation makes possible a weekly community event which reduces loneliness, poverty, and isolation.
  • Warm Welcome, at All Saints church, Wolverhampton, where the transformation of a vestry into a small kitchen means the church can provide hot drinks and meals at a night time drop in session for sex workers.

The judges’ criteria for the shortlist included projects that provide a clear benefit to the wider community, best practice in management and sustainability, and that serve marginalised communities and demonstrate a real understanding of local needs.

Judges for ‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Church Projects’ are: Luke March DL, Chairman of the National Churches Trust; Jo Winyard and Annie McCarthy, from the Marsh Christian Trust; and Danni Malone from the Cinnamon Network.

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said:

“The National Churches Trust works to ensure that the UK’s churches can serve local people.”


“The projects shortlisted for ‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Church Projects’ are great examples of how churches can support communities if they have the right facilities available.”


“Including Soupalunch, a community event to reduce loneliness and isolation, Playzone@Penzance, a children’s play area, and Warm Welcome, where sex workers can meet with specialist agencies for advice, the six projects shortlisted all show how churches make a positive difference to their area.”


“I’d like to thank everybody who entered the competition and look forward to hearing the winner announced on 18 May at the Churches Trusts Forum Conference in Manchester.”


The full shortlist is: 

Community Support Scheme, at St Michael and All Angels, Walford, Herefordshire

St Michael and All Angels is one of the oldest churches in Herefordshire, with the nave dating from about 1100. Reordering of the church has enabled a number of activities to take place which require a gathering space. Pews were removed from the back of the church, disabled access was created by raising the floor, and a kitchen and toilets were installed.

St Michael and All Angels church runs the Community Support Scheme in Walford, a small village in a deprived rural area. Supported by Herefordshire Council’s Wellbeing Innovation Fund, the scheme is designed to unite the community, matching those in need with those able to offer help. This includes the elderly, bereaved, disabled, or maybe a family with someone in hospital. Volunteers might offer lifts, do some shopping, return books, or do DIY. The Community Support Scheme gathers at St Michael’s church monthly. There are also weekly ‘Coffee on a Tuesday’ meetings, in the church or in volunteers’ homes.

The new facilities have also allowed the church to include a social gathering after regular services. Local schools have also been able to visit, and there was a very successful Flower Show during the summer of 2016 attracting hundreds of people.

Making the church a more welcoming place to visit means it has once again become a central part of the community.

Home Community Café, at St James & Emmanuel church, Didsbury, Manchester

Home Community Café is based in the foyer of St James & Emmanuel church, Didsbury. The foyer of the Grade II listed Victorian church has been transformed into the Home Community Café, made possible by a kitchen, toilets, fellowship area, and baby changing area. Previously wasted space is now a lively and bustling hub, a centre of hospitality for the whole community.

The café is open every day, providing good quality food and drink, volunteering opportunities, and is a focus for community events. It welcomes every sector of the local population. These include parents, carers and their children, and isolated elderly people.

Working in partnership with other charities, the church can offer work placements and support to volunteers including Head Start, a mental health charity, and Work Fit, supporting people with Downs Syndrome to enter the workplace. Nearly 70 volunteers have been involved over the last year. Volunteers appreciate the opportunity, commenting: “Home changed me and changed my life… I have friends now, I laugh all the time.”

Adjoining the café, there is a Living Room space in the back of church which has been used by more than 30 different groups over the last 18 months, including a dementia café, a knitting group, a Lego club, support for start-up businesses, and spoken word nights. The café supports these community activities by providing a free space and a welcoming environment.

 Playzone@Penzance, at St John the Baptist church, Penzance, Cornwall

St John the Baptist church in Penzance, Cornwall runs Playzone, a soft play area open every day. The Playzone is a place where children can play in a safe and fun indoor space. Users can make their own drinks, creating a sense of ownership. A group called ‘Coachhouse’, who provide accommodation for vulnerable young people, sell cakes and lunchboxes for a low cost.

St John the Baptist church removed half the pews and moved the font in 2015, allowing the creation of the soft play area. Local children helped to design the equipment.

Areas of Penzance have the highest levels of deprivation in Cornwall, and some of the highest in the UK. There were very few safe indoor spaces for children to play. Through consultation at community events and with local schools, the community were involved in deciding what facilities would best meet their needs.

When the public sessions are closed, local schools use the facilities – sometimes as a treat, and sometimes to work with children with particular needs. There are sessions each week for children to unwind after school, and a session targeted at fathers on Saturday mornings.

Paid work running Playzone brings much needed employment to an area of high unemployment. There is also a rota of volunteers.

The new layout also means that the church is much more flexible, so can be used for parties. Alcoholics Anonymous use the space for meetings, as do Aspire, who do work with children in need, and the local breast feeding group meet here.

 The Runway, at St Michael and All Angels church, Martlesham Heath, Suffolk

The Runway is a not-for-profit Fairtrade café at St Michael and All Angels church in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk. The name comes from Martlesham Heath being the site of an airfield from 1913, seeing early aviation development and wartime action.

St Michael and All Angels church built an extension with an accessible toilet. This provides a welcoming meeting place and coffee shop. The church was built in 1900 by community funding - its purpose has always been to serve the community, and the Runway is an extension of this.

Open as a coffee shop four days a week, it provides a meeting place for local people including a dementia memory café, a knitting group, and a ‘coding for codgers’ group. The café offers work placements to members of the community who can work as volunteers. Outside regular opening hours, it has also held courses on living with dementia, and mission planning. The youth football teams play outside, with the Runway providing a warm space for parents to meet and watch.

Martlesham Heath previously had no social gathering space open during the day for residents. The Runway is a place where people can meet for coffee, but also be assured of someone to talk to. It has also enabled better church outreach, because it provides a space for the chaplaincy team to meet and talk to people who wouldn’t otherwise come to church. Other community organisations visit to meet local people, such as the local St Elizabeth Hospice and the neighbourhood police.

 Soupalunch, at Hawick Congregational Community Church, Hawick, Roxburghshire

Soupalunch is just one of the projects run by Hawick Congregational Community Church as part of their Reaching Out Community Project. The church added disabled access and toilets, eco-heating, insulation, and double glazing to create a welcoming space.

Hawick is seventeenth on the rural deprivation scale in Scotland, and suffers from high unemployment. Isolation, through poverty, disability, chronic illness, old age or bereavement is a major issue.

The church, in Hawick, Roxburghshire, runs an affordable lunch each Wednesday, offering a warm safe space and friendship. Customers describe it as “the highlight of my week”. 

Other parts of the Reaching Out project include volunteering sessions in the kitchen, a knitting group, singing group, and a listening space. Hawick Community Church works with other community groups to make a difference to the lives of local people, through new skills and social interaction.

The upgrades also allow the church to run a toddlers’ club, free family holiday activities, table tennis, an art club, an annual ‘hymnalong’, jumble sales, and Christmas activities.

 Warm Welcome, at All Saints church, Wolverhampton

All Saints church, in Wolverhampton, was founded to respond to the needs of sex workers in the nineteenth century. It still performs this work today. Warm Welcome is a place where sex workers can meet with specialist agencies for drugs, sexual health, and housing advice at a drop in night each week. Volunteers and professionals from many support services attend.

All Saints church was built in 1879, in a deprived area of Wolverhampton. It was extended in 1890. In the 1980s, the nave was partitioned off, leaving a small worship space and two vestries to be used by the church.

Now, with a grant from the Church Urban Fund, a small kitchenette with a dishwasher and microwave has hugely improved the facilities on offer. Hot drinks and meals are available at the drop in sessions. A sofa and dining table also help to create a welcoming environment for visitors.

As well as Warm Welcome, the building and facilities are available to other groups, including Changing Lives, who run training courses for women; a parents’ support group; the Probation service; a gardening group; and a monthly shared meal.