In the first year of the EDP project we focussed on understanding and collecting examples of good practice in the development of historic places of worship to meet wider community needs. Much of our activity was focussed on visiting past projects and reflecting on the process with those that saw projects through. In November 2015 we also held a focus group with people who provide professional advice and support, particularly officers working for Historic England and project architects. We wanted to get their perspective on the challenges in current practice and examine existing as well new resources and ways in which these challenges can be overcome.
We were fortunate to have 15 participants, with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds and an admirable insight and willingness to share their experiences.
Identifying and dealing with challenges
In the first part of the workshop we started with mapping recurring challenges along a timeline, starting with the stages of exploration and visioning, through to development and delivery of plans for adapting historic places of worship. We asked participants to reflect on practical challenges from different perspectives (architectural, faith, heritage and community), always thinking about the particularities of engaging with and serving community needs. The emphasis in the discussion was on Church buildings due to the participants’ experiences, but most of the challenges and themes identified are relevant to different faith buildings and projects.
But we did not only stay at describing the challenges. Our participants suggested many useful ideas and strategies for overcoming those challenges. Some of the key suggestions were:
- Provide support with the formation of statements of need and significance (e.g. through workshops or sharing of existing resources)
- Develop a community engagement training exercise to identify and define stakeholders
- Provide training on project management (managing budgets, people) and fundraising
- Encourage networking and social events to learn together
- Invert power of Dioceses to empower individual PCCs
- Bring together client committee members, planning officers, DAC officers, architect to discuss ideas and plans
- Develop materials to elucidate the process and jargon
- Provide state funding for preventative maintenance
- Provide funding to make a start
Identify knowledge, resources and training materials for professionals
The second part of the workshop focussed on the knowledge, resources and materials that would be useful for professionals working in the field. Our aim in the EDP project is not only to support groups to lead the development of their places, but also to support those who support them, and provide open training materials to budding architects, designers, and community and building development professionals. The responses can be sorted into two categories: domain specific/local knowledge and key generic skills. The table below summarises some of the key ideas.
When it comes to skills, there was a significant emphasis on collaborative skills (motivating, engaging, working with, managing others) but critical skills were also important (e.g. researching the community and the history of the place). Creative skills were important too although more implicit perhaps in discussions about methods and processes to help engage with the community, and support collective visioning.
All these ideas and observations are making their way into the development of our educational programme, which includes the delivery of a two-day training course for professionals next year, as well as the creation of resources to be delivered through an online open educational platform.