One of the elements of our Empowering Design Practices project is to visit places of worship that have made physical changes to their building, and to speak to those involved about the process and impact of those changes. We want to learn from their experience to help others, and to consider the roles of design and community in their success.
Tucked away in Witton Gilbert, a village outside Durham, is the beautiful parish church of St Michael and All Angels, which has stood there for over 800 years. It sits surrounded by natural beauty, with a churchyard bordering on Witton Dean, parkland that rises from the river below.
A clear vision
The success of the recent reordering at St Michael’s is rooted in a clear vision, strong leadership and collaboration from both the faith and lay communities. Their vision, for a quiet Breathing Space, a project to help people find health and well-being, emerged from an open and frank conversation about what and whom the building is for. The starting point was firmly rooted in an understanding of what that particular church and its context have to offer, what makes the place special.
Good design matters
St Michael's wanted to make physical changes to their building which are not uncommon in reordering projects. They wanted to improve accessibility, create a more flexible gathering space, and make the building more comfortable and welcoming with the addition of toilet and kitchen facilities. The launch of the Breathing Space project gave both motivation and opportunity to make those changes happen.
The clever expansion to either side of the existing porch, completed in December 2012, created significant extra space for a toilet, office, and utility storage cupboard. The stone used on the extension was sourced (from an old ice cream parlour in Sheffield) to blend seamlessly into the existing stonework.
We are grateful to the Revd Canon Caroline Dick and all of those at St Michael and All Angels, who so generously shared their story and what they had learned along the way. The tips they had for those embarking on a similar project were many. Here are just a few.
- Think big vision to get the small things done
- Think in phases, and use your vision to support small steps.
- Reach out and build partnerships.
- Get your most vociferous opponents involved, help them understand your position and give them a voice in decision-making
- Acknowledge and thank people for their contribution