Church buildings are first and foremost places of worship. Yet their very function as places where the Word of God is preached and delivered gives them an extra dimension, as places from which the clergy can reach out to others in all scenarios of life, whatever their faith – or even if they have none.
In England, churches are also ‘jewels in the crown’ of the historic environment; venues for concerts and drama; places to visit; and, and most importantly increasingly venues for community activity of sort. In recent years there has been an increasing recognition that these types of wider use may be complementary to a church’s primary purpose as a place of worship, rather than opposed to it and that they can provide a valuable means of bringing the church congregation and the wider community more closely together.
So what does this mean for the building referred to as the Vestry? It’s the ‘administration hub’ the day to day operational heart. This part of the Abbey is multi-functional, multi-layered and often necessarily over-used and under-resourced. But in any buildings lifetime, it reaches bursting point. When it reaches a particular point, it means that a great deal is in jeopardy. Of course, everyone makes do way beyond the time when something should have been done. The time has come to do something.
If you enter into a conversation with our Priest in Charge it’s all about the Loos suitable for everyone – and more of them, the rehearsal spaces are far too small and inadequate for visiting musicians as well as our Choir, hospitality areas are non-existent, and privacy is clearly at a premium. It’s the loos that focus her mind – only one and not disabled friendly. During many services and concerts, the queues are long.
So the plan is straightforward; redevelop the existing building by creating a two-floor construction with toilets, kitchen, a private room for those who cannot make the stairs and general storage on the ground floor. On the first floor develop an appropriate robing area, rehearsal and meeting rooms, with some extensive work to establish a new tower crossing area and gallery to create new and varied opportunities for experiencing different acoustics in performance (choir/small orchestra/band) and access to north aisle roof.
The cohesive plan for the future of the Abbey depends on getting this part of the building right. Everyone knows that it's behind the scenes areas that hold the business together and by doing so it makes the rest somewhat more manageable.
This project is key to the very future of the life of the Abbey. It includes underpinning the everyday work of the clergy (but who could say that a clergy’s day is everyday work) by making the spaces fit for the administration of church business, and with plans for concerts, exhibitions, tourism, community engagement nothing less will do.