Heritage Buildings and Community Development - Opening up the church building for Community Use
Church Regeneration - Preliminary Items
Many Church communities are keen to re-order their church buildings and make them more suitable for contemporary needs. It is key to harness this enthusiasm but be aware that the process of getting the approvals can be time consuming, which can be frustrating if people are unaware of the processes involved with heritage church buildings.
Before one starts deciding where to put things or asking people to produce any designs or concepts for consideration, there are a number of items that require some preliminary investigation and consultation before decisions can be made to move forward.
Successful church projects are the result of lengthy and thorough preparation. In the haste to get things done, it is all too easy to skimp on the preparation and then not only blunt people's enthusiasm but cause them to give up in frustration and despair when things become difficult.
In view of the number of variables that are characteristic of every church in terms of the people, buildings and context, it is advisable to ensure there is good preparation to identify the facts rather than make assumptions. In my experience the following are the essential items that need to be dealt with at an early stage to ensure long term sustainable success:
- Capacity Building of the Congregation
- Asset Management Plan (AMP)
- Financial Health Check
- Assets Review
- Understanding the building(s)
- Community Consultation
- Options Review
A full explanation of some of these items is in other sections, but I am always willing to provide help and advice with these initial stages.
I have put them in a numbered order intentionally. While some can be tackled more or less concurrently, the order is there to minimise frustration and identify the issues that could 'de-rail' the best of intentions. These items form the stage of 'Scoping the Project' which will provide clearer definition of what it is the church community is hoping to do.
Capacity Building of the Congregation
The objective of capacity building is to provide the church community with the theological basis and historical information about the development and purposes of the church building(s), agree priorities for mission and reach a common mind.
Many church congregations would value opportunities for learning and would appreciate the chance for some training, consultation and education to enable them engage them in the process of change. I think it is essential the whole Church community is invited and encouraged to participate at the beginning even if at a later stage the PCC delegates some of the subsequent work to a PCC sub-committee.
If these capacity building events are run as workshops for as many church members as possible, this allows for issues and concerns to be voiced in a large forum and provide a common starting point so no one can claim ignorance of what is being proposed.
Essential to any church project is an agreed Mission Action Plan for the church community. So clarify what the church is doing and wants to do and agree the specific and contextually appropriate Priorities for Mission. Use The Healthy Churches Handbook (ISBN 0-7151-4017-5) as a tool for this. Encourage as many of the congregation as possible to engage in the process. Be prepared to allow enough time to get through the process and to reflect on the outcomes.
If your church is considering re-ordering the interior arrangement I would recommend that as many members as possible become familiar with Re-Pitching the Tent by Richard Giles (ISBN 1- 85311-571-1). It has been described as "the definitive guide to re-ordering church buildings for worship and mission". It is just that and while some of our church buildings might never be suitable to achieve all of the ideal objectives, at least you will know why and what is important. It is an essential book.
Asset Management Plan (AMP)
Using either the current Quinquennial Report (if it has sufficient information) or a Building Condition Survey the AMP will provide a forecast of the building's maintenance and repairs with costs for the next 25 - 30 years.
Financial Health Check
This is to provide the church with accurate information and to ensure that there is a financial strategy to meet the liabilities, balance the books and ensure long term sustainability with the ability to sustain ministry and buildings.
This is to examine whether the best use is currently being made of the property assets and to identify ways of maximising their potential. It can be simply done by comparing the value of the capital asset with the income generated. For any building other than a church building, if the property is generating less than 5% then it is not earning its keep and is storing up problems. You will need to take action and possibly get some help sooner than later.
Of course church buildings are more difficult to quantify. Some will be valued as just being beautiful and filled with the numinous, some are so locked up with furniture and fittings that they cannot be used for anything else but 'sitting up straight and facing the front'. Even so, they should be used in ways where they can make a contribution to earning their keep.
Understanding the building(s)
The Faculty process requires a Statement of Significance about the building together with a Statement of Need setting out the reasons for the proposals for change.
In the case of historically significant listed buildings, it is all the more essential for the people making the proposals for change to demonstrate that they have a full understanding of the building, its origins and development over the centuries. This understanding can be demonstrated by preparing a Conservation Statement which is more detailed than the Listing Information or Statement of Significance. It will identify the conservation value of the building in terms of the building's features and, more importantly, the historical context and social history.
Churches may need some help with getting started in the production of the Conservation Statement. An essential requirement is a local person who can undertake the research, much of which will be located in Diocesan Archives which are located in the Local Authority Records Office.
Recently church communities responsible for significant heritage buildings (Grade I and II*) have been encouraged to think about preparing a Conservation Management Plan for the building. There is however some divergence of opinion as to whether they are absolutely essential unless significant proposals for change are being considered. It would be sensible to take advice on this matter before embarking on what can be a lengthy and costly exercise. The Princes Regeneration Trust has published a useful explanation about Conservation Statements and Conservation Management Plans which can be downloaded from its website: www.princes-regeneration.org/publications.php The Church Care website - www.churchcare.co.uk - has a useful explanation about Conservation Management Plans and a model example of a CMP for a Grade I medieval church building.
It is absolutely essential to base any proposals for wider community use of the building on identified and agreed community needs. Funding bodies will all want to see the evidence of need derived from a thorough community consultation.
The consultation explores the context in which the church building(s) and church community are placed and identifies other stakeholders, local needs and possible partnerships.
The community needs can be identified by a community audit, for which there are various models and templates available. I have two survey templates that have proved very useful for the community consultation, one being what is called a Delphi Survey to generate new ideas and thinking and Community Review to discover how the local church is perceived by those who are not members. In addition The Church Urban Fund has an extensive and very comprehensive template on its website: www.cuf.org.uk.
Options Review of the possible uses for the building(s)
This is a broad brush listing of the many possibilities, from which a few options may be selected for a more detailed Feasibility Study.
These seven items are the essential starting point for any church wishing to re-order or regenerate its church buildings and property. It can be a waste of time and money to instruct an architect before these items have been addressed by the church members.
Getting the Process Right
Getting the process right and dealing with all the various issues in the best order can be quite daunting especially if this is the first time your church has ever done something like this. Seek help at an early stage and be prepared to do the work yourselves rather than call in external consultants who can be expensive. A danger of using external consultants to do the research work and number crunching is that their findings are not ,owned' and valued by the whole church because they have not had any involvement in the process.
The experience of others is very useful and among the range of advice that is available, I would recommend the following two resources as a place to start:
- The UK Church Fundraising Handbook: A Practical Manual and Directory of Sources by Maggie Durran (Canterbury Press, Norwich, ISBN 978-1853115165). This is full of useful information and sets out the issues to address in a clear step by step process.
- Crossing the Threshold. This is a very useful toolkit available via the Diocese of Hereford website. The toolkit and accompanying DVD was launched in November 2009.
The Lottery Fund has huge amounts of information about the processes of gathering information and undertaking the community consultation. So too will local community support organisations like Community First and Local Authority Community Development Officers.
All the organisations which are responsible for 'public' money will want evidence of the wider community's involvement in the project. The PCC will need to consider how non-church members are to be included in the process of taking the project forward.