Before Christmas we put up plans in the Guild Room and on the church notice board describing a number of changes which were being considered to improve the front area of the church.
The purpose of our original plan was to provide an accessible toilet and step free area for less able parishioners, and an easier route from the church to a children’s liturgy area. We also wanted to provide a larger area than the current Guild Room for coffee and other social meetings, and a more welcoming weatherproof area for visitors waiting for baptism, funeral and other services.
The Diocese and its architectural advisers did not approve development that substantially changed the frontage of the Church and we were asked to consider development at the side, not the front.
This we have done and the revised plan now shown on the church notice board and below has been developed, and received an encouraging early response from the Diocese.
The plans include construction of a new social space opening onto the rear garden and with accessible toilet facilities, reduction in depth of the stepped area at the front of the church to provide better vehicular access and widening/re-configuring of the current ramp.
The funding for our original proposal was a £100k donation from a parish family. Our architectural/building advisers will be assessing whether or to what extent the revised plan can be delivered for this sum.
Owing to the current restrictions on gatherings we are unable to hold a Parish meeting to discuss the proposals but we would welcome your comments which can either be made via the contact form (please select Finance) or directly to Father Mathew, Chris Croker, Andrew Ford, Linis Dolby or Declan Moore after Mass.
The Revised Plan
The purpose of our original plan and the diocesan response are summarised above. Our revised plans and isometric pictures are shown below.
As we are unable to hold any meetings in the current Coronavirus restrictions, these notes have been written to provide additional information about the nature and benefits of this revised proposal and to explain some of the issues that have been considered in arriving at this proposal.
You cannot but be aware that our Church has many steps, a ramp and some very uneven bits of concrete. This may not be the most exciting topic, but it has been a real problem for our architect, Andy Todd, as he worked to provide improved access for wheelchair users and those of us, old or young, who can struggle with these obstacles.
The church porch is nearly two feet (4 steps) higher than the Guild Room entrance, and there are lots of regulations about slopes, flat areas by doors and paving surfaces which are now mandated for safety reasons (you can be sure that some of our current Church design features would never have got through planning if submitted now.)
So the first thing you may notice is that the new building is half way between the floor level of the Church and that of the presbytery. From the porch, which will be newly paved, there will be a gentle slope down towards the presbytery and then a flat curved path to the entrance of the new room. This eliminates about half the difference in height.
The remaining height difference between the new room and the Guild Room is accommodated outside by a step down in the wall as it curves around and, internally, by two existing steps in the passageway past the presbytery toilets.
So, wheelchair users will be able to move safely from church to the new hall for any social gathering and will have an accessible toilet close by the hall entrance.
Those going out to the children’s liturgy will have a shorter and less precarious route to and from the Church although, sorry, we have not been able to make this a covered weatherproof route.
2 The New Parish Room
The new social area or parish room (yet to be named by Father) is in total about 50 square metres with a much larger ‘free space’ for tables and movement than the Guild Room (which also has to accommodate some office equipment etc.)
It will have double doors opening onto the garden which parishioners will be encouraged to use and enjoy. Its size, easy access from the church and garden outlook are expected to make it the most frequently used area for small social gatherings.
The accessible (wheelchair) toilet is near the entrance and all the other toilet, tea prep and Guild Room facilities in the presbytery area are linked to the parish room by a new doorway in the wall.
The building will have a flat roof, with modern low maintenance surfacing, A pitched roof with a vaulted ceiling might have been nicer but it would be substantially more expensive.
Ceiling height will be 2.8 metres and light from windows onto the garden will be supplemented with two large roof lights. The two windows on the presbytery side are high level to provide a degree of privacy to that part of the garden.
A small store which can take some stacked chairs and folding tables is included.
There is access from the new room to the existing tea preparation area, but on occasion both rooms may be separately used, or the Parish Room let for some external or private function. We have therefore included a small tea prep area in the new room.
Many other details will get defined once we have approval and budget estimates. These details include electrics, lighting, flooring, heating etc. The flooring will probably be Karndene - a low maintenance hard wearing surface maybe with a pine floor appearance - and standards of insulation will be excellent.
3 The Porch Area
The main change in this area is removal of the front steps leaving two sets of side steps (as now, but less wide) and gentle slopes both sides leading either to the Parish Room or out to Highfield Road.
Removal of the front steps and replacement with a wall and railings does not detract from the frontage and still leaves a church background for Palm Sunday, Weddings etc. The gains are extra space for vehicle turning and access, and very much safer mingling outside the church entrance without any risk of a backward fall.
The flat concrete porch itself remains unchanged with its Christmas crib annual feature, but the few yards from the shelter of the porch to the parish are uncovered but still a lot easier route than the current stepped route.
The porch area, steps and new slope etc will be newly paved. This will have to meet non-slip standards, and surface texture changes etc for the disabled and those with impaired sight. It will probably be a neutral grey colour but that is to be considered at a later stage. (the existing pavers are not suitable).
You may wonder ‘Why that funny curved bit? That’s a bit tricky to explain, but its all about regulations on slopes and flat areas by doors. There is insufficient length to run a slope down from the porch to the Guild Room entrance so this flat curve gives us what is required for new Parish room entrance to meet regulations and, probably to the delight of the Diocesan architects, moves the new building back and away from the church façade.
4 The Entry Ramp
After talking to funeral directors and some less able parishioners we know that the existing entry ramp is just about OK if the hedge is cut and we do a bit of concrete repair work. But what we want to do, if it’s affordable, is to widen this approach ramp by about a foot and to change its alignment. This is shown in the revised plan.
These changes will clearly separate the pavement pedestrian access off Highfield from a much wider vehicle entrance, offering some access choices for wedding and funeral cars, and making the front area use by Father and his visitors less of a car scratching risk.
With proper rails this will also make it a much easier for the less able to walk up the slope with side by side support.
Aesthetically, it will also provide a coherent new frontage for the church from Presbytery to road.
5 Bits and Pieces
You will realise that the position of the new Parish Room has garage and tree implications.
There is a large cherry tree in the garden whose fruit the birds take well before Father has a chance. No doubt is was lovely when planted but it is now too big for its location both by the church and any new development. It will have to be removed and there are some clay heave implications that will impact on foundation depth.
The garage will also have to go. Obviously the Presbytery still has the other garage and the one by the church has rarely been used in recent years other than for storage. The ‘easy’ answer is to buy a shed that could be placed in the garden (at the end of the other garage) mainly holding garden equipment.
But that’s just money and another view is that you will always fill any storage space that’s available. (Please, before we buy a shed is there anybody out there who has the energy and ebay/gumtree/freecycle experience to sell, give to charity or parishioners or take to the dump all the stuff we have in the hall and garages that has for decades been kept as may be useful one day.)
6 Strategy and Other Comments
We hope and expect that things will return to ‘normal’, whatever that is, but you will wish to know that a number of longer term options have been built into this proposal to ensure that it does not obstruct them. For example:
- Post Covid we hope that the parish hall renters will return and that a profitable community asset can be re-energised. Building the Parish Room is in no way a substitute or replacement for our hall which is totally different in scale. But if at some time in the future the parish and diocese decide to sell the hall and land, then we have designed and placed the new Parish Room so as to enable a bigger or two part hall to be developed alongside the church.
- If, heaven forbid we don’t have a resident priest or community at some stage, then we have designed the new facilities in a way that they don’t intrude with the option of letting the Presbytery. The new room does not intrude into the garden and line of site of any tenants and there is minimum structural interface between the Presbytery and the new build.
- Finally, if you are wondering whether this is a crazy time to be spending money on buildings, just listen to the chancellor who agrees with our donors, that the best possible thing people can do, if they have any money that can be used charitably, is to spend it supporting local labour intensive projects to bring work and dignity to people.