Somerset church wins first Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects

Published: Friday, May 20, 2016


The Space@St Andrew’s, a project to create a community area in the beautiful Grade II* listed church of St Andrew’s in the village of Blagdon in Somerset, has won the first ‘Marsh Award for Innovative Projects’.

Following the creation of a new community space with toilets and kitchen and a mezzanine floor, the church is now being used in many new ways. These include:

  • ‘Wi-Fi Wednesday’, which helps villagers to get online
  • ‘Prayers and Bears’, a toddler group
  • ‘Monday Mix’, a weekly social afternoon for elderly people
  • Charity lunches and funeral teas

Recycles Club, Salvation Army Ilford, London was the runner up project. Participants in Recycles work with trained bike mechanics to recycle bikes so that they are ready for sale. They can develop skills to secure employment, and contribute to their local community.

The winners of The ‘Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects’ were announced by the Dean of Wakefield, the Very Rev Jonathan Greener, at the Churches Trust Forum Annual Conference at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in York on 19 May 2016.

St Andrew’s church was awarded a £1,000 prize. Recycles Club, Salvation Army Ilford was awarded a £500 prize.

‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects’, a new awards scheme launched in 2015 and run jointly by the National Churches Trust and the Marsh Christian Trust, are designed to show the positive impact that installing new facilities such as kitchens and toilets has on churches and local communities and on harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers.

The Winner - The Space@St Andrew’s

Following a major consultation among church members and the wider village, in 2014 it was decided to make St Andrew’s church more welcoming and accessible for community use. As a result, a flexible open space was created by removing pews and a mezzanine floor was added, the area separated from the church by a glazed screen to the tower arch. A second phase of the project created pods at the end of each aisle, with fully accessible toilets, a kitchen, and a utility room.  The total cost of the project was £218,000, with £123,000 raised through local fund raising.

Users of The Space@St Andrew’s include ‘Wi-Fi Wednesday’, helping villagers of all ages to get online; ‘Prayers and Bears’, a toddler group; ‘Monday Mix’, a weekly social afternoon; exhibitions by local artists as part of the Chew Valley Arts Trail; and the Blagdon Mosaic Project, which created a permanent depiction of village life.

The activities are all run by volunteers and self-funded by participants, following an initial investment from the church using a small legacy designated for community support.

Visit the church website

Rev'd Jane Chamberlain, Rector, Blagdon with Compton Martin and Ubley, said:

This project was never about just ‘putting in a lavatory and a servery’. It was always about asking the bigger question: ‘What kind of church is God calling us to be?’ It led us to a fresh vision for St Andrew’s, one strand of which was to reach out and serve the community.”


“The church is now serving the community in ways that we could not have imagined at the start: Monday Mix (a social afternoon for elderly people with activities such as scrabble, crafts and jigsaws and tea and cake), Wifi Wednesday, Prayers and Bears, hosting the village toddler group, charity lunches, funeral teas and even a wedding reception."


“Winning the first 'Marsh Award for Innovative Projects' is a real honour and I hope and pray that those who have supported the project in so many ways will receive this as further affirmation of our journey together.”

The Runner Up - Recycles Club, Salvation Army Ilford.

Ilford Salvation Army serves a population of over 75,000, in an area containing some of the 20% most deprived wards in the country. In 2014, the Salvation Army building underwent extensive refurbishment, remodelling the entrance to provide a more hospitable reception area, and adding a kitchen and a disabled toilet, and creating a multi-use drop in space which also operates as a café. The welcoming open area is a physical reminder of their mission to meet the needs of the local community.

Participants in Recycles work with trained bike mechanics to recycle bikes so that they are ready for sale. Making the cost of a bike and bike repairs more affordable removes a barrier to bike ownership. The café is also run by volunteers, providing both a community service and training in customer service skills.

Visit the Recycles website

Lieutenant John Clifton of the Ilford Salvation Army said:

“The ongoing support of the National Churches Trust has been essential to our work assisting those requiring the skills, and the confidence, necessary to give them the best possible chance of seeking and securing employment and enabling us to reach out to those living in poverty in the local area."


“The work we do through this project is a tangible example of how the Salvation Army strives to offer disadvantaged people not just practical support in a time of crisis, but also the tools to help people overcome the challenges they face and restart, restore and rebuild their lives.”


“Support from the National Churches Trust is fundamental to The Salvation Army’s mission to transform the lives of vulnerable and deprived people so thank you for sharing our vision and giving us this award.”

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

“I’m delighted that the superb project to open up St Andrew’s church in Blagdon, Somerset, to greater use has won the first ‘Marsh Award for Innovative Projects’. The church worked incredibly hard to make sure that local people were consulted on how to make the building more welcoming and accessible. The Space@St Andrew’s is now used extensively and the church has become an invaluable local community centre.”

“Congratulations go to Recycles Club, Salvation Army Ilford, London, the runner up. It’s great that this scheme, which recycles bikes, is giving people a vital second chance by allowing them to develop skills to secure employment.”

“The National Churches Trust works to ensure that the UK’s churches are in good repair and able to serve local people. ‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects’ shows that by investing in new facilities and opening up their building to community use, churches make life better for local people.”

Have a look at the full shortlist