Churches make fantastic spaces for so much more than simply God bothering.
And by allowing alternative uses for some of these fabulous old buildings, local councils can help to ensure that they remain “lived in” and to some extent “looked after”.
Holy Trinity Church in Horncastle was made redundant on 19-Oct-1979 and became an Arts and Community Centre on 21-Dec-1988. This retired church on East Street is now home to the Trinity Antiques Centre. Anyone visiting this small Lincolnshire market town for the first time cannot fail to notice the plethora of antique shops. In fact, this is what Horncastle is most famous for in the 21st century – it has welcomed television shows such as the BBC’s Bargain Hunt on more than one occasion.
The town has Roman origins and you can still see some of the remaining walls. It also has a famous character or two on its historic bragging list.
It is a sense of godly history that makes it feel a little odd to be in a church perusing English bone china tea sets and cut glassware all laid out with price tags, just asking to be bought and given a new home. It goes against the grain somehow. There’s a definite decibel awareness too; fellow visitors speaking almost in whispers, and treading reverently on the ancient stone flags, as if He might still be in residence.
It makes for a peaceful experience I have to say, a welcome break from the constant traffic buzzing by outside on its way to the east coast seaside resorts on a Friday afternoon. Retail clearly does work as an option for redundant town churches, as proved here.
My particular concern though is regarding the demise of the scores of small, country churches in our villages and hamlets, where there is no call for retail businesses to exist. And not every village has a famous son or daughter to fall back on in hard times. Sadly, because of planning rules, the majority of these buildings cannot currently be purchased and made into dwellings. I’d like to see local councils changing their tune on planning permission and re-assessing how these ancient buildings can be put to alternative good use as homes, offices, galleries and small rural businesses. Surely “lived in” has to be a better description than “lost” for our rural historic churches?
All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere