On 9th March in Glasgow I had the pleasure of taking part in the excellent workshop arranged in partnership with Empowering Design Practices and the Church Buildings Renewal Trust (CBRT) – joining communities in the renewal of church buildings by engaging early in the design process.
Delegates came from groups engaged in Community Buy Outs and Church groups exploring projects to extend the use and flexibility of their respective properties, spaces that play a key role within their communities and contribute significantly to the local architectural townscape. Without either there would be a cultural gap in our towns and villages. There were also a number of professionals from the CBRT network in attendance.
After some inspiring stories from EDP team members Sophia and Vera about successful case studies, including a summary of the unique history of our venue at Adelaide Place Baptist Church, we were introduced to approaches of engaging people in design and demystifying the process. The workshop which followed in the afternoon proved of great value to the groups as they explored in their own contexts the implications of putting into practice the principles outlined in the morning session.
One of these activities engaged delegates in memory mapping the details of their buildings, identifying the qualities of the positive and negative aspects that need to be addressed to improve the spaces and their use. They used practical tools of drawing and explored the effects of changing the ambience of spaces with light and colour and creating intimate spaces for personal reflection in contrast to the environment required for corporate worship. This included the use of focal points, artwork and music and user participation. Even small differences in how participants approached the activities were interesting. The engineer in the group would use a brown pen to draw the building as literally as he could, whereas the artist in the group used colour and sketching to express what might enhance the space.
The differences between the groups representing a place of worship and the professional ‘buddies’ allocated to their respective tables was interesting. The groups focused on the liturgy, the various uses of the space and the interplay of different generations being involved together, whereas the professionals focused on the physical aspects of creating exciting and sympathetic spaces and the fabric required to promote a better experience. Common themes emerged, including flexibility and the extended use of the building throughout the weekly programme, which can help preserve the long-term sustainability of the buildings and ultimately the communities that they serve. The groups representing a place of worship also shared some discussion points that had emerged within their congregations to explore further. For example, when exploring opinions regarding the removal of pews from the sanctuary in favour of loose seating, the adults at one church recognised the advantages of flexibility, while their children surprised them by saying they liked the pews because they felt the security of being together as a family in their own pew!
The feedback from delegates was very positive as people were engaging together from different viewpoints and using new tools that made them more aware of their environment from a new perspective to inform the design of their immediate projects. The workshop proved of value to us at CBRT because it provided new tools that we can use in our annual conference as we interact with many other church and community groups seeking to extend the use of their places of worship for the future. Finding new ways of under-writing the capital and revenue costs of running successful community facilities that serve congregations and the wider community can also be explored if people are inspired about the possibilities. It promotes the involvement of local and national agencies in supporting local communities when many central funding sources are being withdrawn or made accessible in different ways. For example, many churches are now being used to provide health, fitness, and even post office services, as well as partnering with nurseries and schools providing different but suitable venues for performance, music and art functions.
This is the core vision of the Church Building Renewal Trust as we try to bring together precedented successful projects with struggling non-empowered communities to inspire them to the full potential of their assets in the form of their buildings and properties. New ways of funding can then be explored and as a committee we found the day encouraged us to think about using the tools and methods being developed in the research programme of the Empowering Design Practices project. We greatly appreciated the input and collaboration with the project and hope it proves to be an ongoing partnership that can be of mutual benefit in practical ways as we all move forward together.