Breathing Life Into a Victorian Tabernacle
John Jenkins interviews Chris Thackery, senior minister of Westbourne Grove Church, to discover what impact a major building redevelopment had on one small urban church in West London.
John: The present facilities of Westbourne Grove Church are a far cry from the Victorian Tabernacle I remember. For those who have never visited the church could you say something about the facilities you now enjoy and the circumstances that brought you to make the momentous decision to redevelop?
Chris: The circumstances that brought us to the decision to develop were relatively straightforward - firstly, the old building was really not suited to modern use, and secondly it was falling apart! In terms of the old building's facilities, it lacked adequate kitchen and toilet facilities; the heating system was inadequate, the electrics were antiquated; the two sets of stairs required to enter the church made it inaccessible for the disabled, the elderly, and people with kids in pushchairs, and there was a lack of flexibility in the use of the spaces. In terms of the condition of the building, some parts were derelict and abandoned, others were very damp, and the roof was in constant need of repair. There were also many health and safety issues with unacceptable levels of risk required even to change the light bulbs in the main hall. The new building is amazing! We have street level access, two kitchens, toilets and showers, heating and hot water system, lots of flexible spaces to use for a variety of purposes, up to date electrics, massively improved energy efficiency and a range of rooms and spaces that can accommodate a wide range of different activities. The building is beautiful, welcoming, and up-to-date, communicating the relevance of the gospel in the 21st century.
John: For many, redeveloping a site as extensive as WGC would be extremely daunting prospect. Having bitten the bullet and made the decision to redevelop the site where did you begin? Where there any special considerations that needed to be taken into account given that the building was listed?
Chris: Yes, it was a daunting prospect, but the alternative was to watch the old building crumble away, and become a burden to the congregation, rather than an asset to the congregation and an amazing resource for reaching out to the community. In terms of getting the ball rolling, one of the key stages was contacting the surveyors who act for the London Baptist Property Board, who were (and still are) the custodian trustees. We knew that we would need permission from the LBPB, and that they would be advised by their surveyors, so it made sense to bring them in from the start. The first stage was that they helped us to put together a development brief, essentially setting out the concept of the project. They sent this to a carefully selected list of developers who were invited to offer proposals.
Happily, the building wasn't listed, but is in a conservation area and this meant that there were some planning constraints, but not as restrictive as if the building was listed. The planners consulted with English Heritage and the Victorian Society for their comments on the plans.
John: How do you project manage something like this? Who do you call upon to help? How do you set about funding something like this?
Chris: Funding - this is a remarkable feature of this project! The congregation had no money, but the building, although crumbling is located in Notting Hill, a fashionable and expensive area. The basic concept of the project was to rebuild the church, inserting flats in to what was formerly the roof space. In simple terms, the value of this fresh air above our heads, was enough to pay for the whole redevelopment! Part of the deal also was that the developer would pay all the costs of getting planning permission and would pay for our lawyers and surveyors. As part of the redevelopment, church facilities were on two floors, rather than one, so although we surrendered some empty space, we've ended up with more floor area than before, brand new facilities and no debt! Essentially our lawyers and surveyors protected our interests, but the overall management of the project was the responsibility of the developers. We were also very blessed in that before working for the church, I worked with the National Audit Office, so I had experience on the financial side of things; my wife is an architect, and the other church Elder at the time had a background in engineering, so we had a pretty good in-house team!
John: Where there any setbacks or obstacles that you encountered along the way? How did you cope with them?
Chris: The planning process was a major headache. Initially the planners encouraged us to demolish completely and rebuild from scratch, but when we produced plans on this basis, we were told that there had been a change of policy and now we had to think in terms of keeping the external appearance substantially unchanged, but with free rein within the building. The project could have stalled at this point, but the architect did a magnificent job of completely redesigning the building in a very short time to get things back on track.
We produced new designs. The planners were extraordinarily slow to respond; often they required changes and then wanted it changed back again; we would agree something with a planner, only to be told that this had been reversed by the head of planning; the head of planning refused to meet with us. Sometimes the planners insisted on changes at a level of detail more appropriate to a listed building. This was probably the most frustrating and disheartening part of the project over all, it seemed to suck up a lot of mental and emotional resource, and felt like it would never end, or that it might all be for nothing. What was helpful here was mainly lots of prayer! But also, the fact that we had a really good relationship with the property developers and the architect, so at least we were facing the struggle as a team.
The other major setback was in the early stages of the building work. The interior of the building had been gutted and the outside walls supported with scaffolding, but the West wall collapsed, spectacularly, - we even made it to the Evening Standard! At this point I was incredibly relieved that the project management (and the financial risks) lay with the property developer, and not the church. This caused a delay of about 6 months while all the health and safety issues were resolved.
John: Managing a large church complex is not easy, but you have the added complication of the inclusion of shop front retail spaces and residential apartments. How does all that fit together? How have you been able to make that “work” for you as a church? Does it bring tension at time?
Chris: Yes, it's an unusual building - we have church facilities on the ground and first floors, and some in the basement; there is a basement car park for the residents; above the church there are residential flats. Along the side of the church are two shop units which belong to the church and we rent them out. The income from the two shop units enable us to keep the church building open 7 days a week, serving the local community. The only complications with the shops are that when it comes to rent reviews or when the leases come to an end, there's the hassle and the costs in terms of professional fees to undertake the negotiations. There's also the risk of one of the tenants going bust, or there being a gap between the end of one lease and the start of another which can have a big impact in terms of lost income, so we have to keep quite high reserves to act as a buffer. Sharing the building with the flat owners is mostly OK, but there are inevitably some tensions, especially when it comes to setting priorities for maintenance of the building. We've also had to suffer a couple of floods from water problems in the flats above, and some discussions related to what is an acceptable level of noise coming from the church. What's really helpful is that my wife acts as the church's building manager, so she deals with all these sorts of issues, and that frees me to focus more on the pastoral and missional sides of church life.
John: I can imagine a project of this size could quite easily become all consuming. How did you manage to keep things in proportion and still continue to get on with the business of “doing church”?
Chris: Yes, it certainly was a big and demanding project! However, there tended to be periods of time when things just moved on without needing a lot of input, and other times that were much more intense - lots of meetings and decisions to be made. As I mentioned before, the fact that the developers were responsible for the overall management of the project was a big weight off my shoulders. It's worth saying that although it was time consuming, it was also a very exciting process - it's really quite a special opportunity in life to be involved in re-building a church. I loved the process of thinking through how to make a church relevant and attractive in the 21st century, thinking about how we might want to use it, how to express our values in architectural terms. Although the project demanded a lot of work at times, it also released me from the time burdens of trying to maintain the old building. Although it was a big part of my thinking, a lot of the thinking wasn't so much about project management, but more about "what kind of future as a congregation is God giving us?"; in that sense it didn't feel like a distraction from church life but an emerging expression of it. Given that the congregation was quite small, I found that mostly I was able to manage the project based work around my pastoral work.
John: With hindsight, if you were embarking on this same project tomorrow, would there be things that you would have done differently, or not at all?
Chris: To be honest, I don't think so! In terms of the facilities we now have, it works incredibly well – I don’t think there’s anything I’d change. In regard to the process, there’s no doubt that a more cooperative planning department would have made life easier, but that wasn’t really in our control. The process was massively helped by the excellent relationships between everyone involved in the project. In fact, our lead contact at the property developers decided to get married in the old building before demolition started and I had the privilege of taking them through a marriage preparation course and officiating at the wedding ceremony!
John: From what you have learnt, what advice would you give to others church leaders who are embarking on or are contemplating a major facility redevelopment?
Chris: A few thoughts, not necessarily in order: pray a lot! get good professional advice and support; communicate and consult at all stages with your congregation; think through carefully about how you want the building to serve your vision as a church.
John: To look at the church facilities a stranger would be mistaken in believing that behind the bricks and mortar there lies a large church congregation but that could not be further from the truth. Could you say something about the size and make up of your congregation?
Chris: That's true - we're actually a very small congregation - there's 25 members and another 5-10 who are not signed-up members but who are part of the church family; we're quite diverse ethnically, and also socially: we have people who are homeless who attend meetings regularly, and we have a number of people with mental health issues or learning difficulties.
John: Notting Hill is seen and thought off as an upmarket area with trendy coffee shops and boutiques. Is that a true reflection of the area or is there another side to it?
Chris: Yes, it certainly is a trendy area, and the rising prices have pushed most middle-income people out of the area, but there are a number of housing estates in the area and also quite a bit of housing association property. Some of the wards nearby are ranked as very deprived; the nearest primary school has over 40 languages spoken. We also have quite a number of street homeless in the area.
John: What impact has the redevelopment had on the church’s ability to minister into these needs? What are you able to do now that you were never able to do before the redevelopment?
Chris: The new building has transformed the way that we can reach out to the community. Every Monday we have a Drop-in for homeless people to come and have hot drinks, snacks, a hot shower and friendship; once a month we do a free lunch, open to anyone but especially attracting people that are homeless or living alone on benefits, that attracts about 50 people. We offer very cheap meeting rooms for support groups such a Narcotics Anonymous. Also, people come to the church to get help with benefit-related problems, housing issues and the like, so we're involved with advocacy work
John: How has the church been able to do so much with such a small people base, and punch so much above its weight? Have you had to bring in paid staff, volunteers or a combination of both?
Chris: Certainly, our church members are wonderful and contribute what they can, but the income we receive from the shops, and from lettings for use of the building enable us to finance a staff of 16 people! Nearly all of these are part-time though. Some of the staff are church members; some are Christians from other churches and some are not Christians at all: we deliberately decided that we wanted to use the opportunity of working for the church to be an expression of our mission!
John: One final question. Would you do it again?
Chris: I have absolutely no regrets about doing it! Also, I really enjoy meeting with other church leaders who are exploring similar ideas to help in any way that we can.
Chris Thackery is Senior Minister at Westbourne Grove Church, in Notting Hill, a position he has held since 1992.
John Jenkins is Partnership Regional Co-ordinator for London and Essex and was, for a number of years in the 1980’s, an elder at Westbourne Grove Church.
Partnership UK now has a Facebook page! Please do follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Partnership-UK-300780067062139/
Joshua Leadership Bible School Lecture Programme - SWANSEA!
A few churches in Swansea have come together to launch this programme. The programme is developed from Tilsley College as part of Gospel Literature Outreach (GLO).
Further details are on our training page at https://www.partnershipuk.org/training.htm
“Stepping out without leaving home!” Starting September 2017 Training that comes to YOU!
For many people in church leadership and ministry it is just not practical to take a year or more to study full-time at Bible college. But they want to be better equipped to serve God and to have a stronger grip on his word and ways.
This year, in association with our partners in Enable – a training network for independent churches and in conjunction with Tilsley College, we are running a pilot mentored training scheme for church leaders and church workers. It will be based around the Joshua course, delivered over the internet from Tilsley College, the Learning to Lead blended online course, supported by a mentor and supplemented by some 24-hour residential sessions (Friday evening/Saturday). A core curriculum of applied biblical and theological studies will be delivered within the ethos of independent evangelical churches such as those in Partnership.
We have in mind the needs of church leaders (or those who have been identified as future leaders) as well people in Christian work, whether working with a church or with an agency serving local churches. Any worthwhile training course will need the investment of time and a commitment to personal study, and that is much more sustainable if you are not studying on your own. It is much more accessible if it can be done largely from home, and draws on locally available mentored input.
If you would like to consider taking part in this pilot course, please contact us with a little information about yourself and your work or leadership responsibilities. If you include a phone number, we can have an early conversation as to how this can work around your existing ministry responsibilities.
Further details are available by clicking here. If you would like to talk with course organisers Alistair Hornal and Mark Davies, please do get in touch with them at: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
We live in challenging times. Global politics, Brexit, and unstable government added to terror attacks and disasters lead to fear, uncertainty and turmoil.
One interesting outcome of the Grenfell Tower fire was the extra profile given to the challenging and diverse nature of communities like North Kensington, which are often hidden and unseen in more stable circumstances.
Many of us know that there are thousands of communities, housing estates, urban, suburban and rural, who are facing social crises. Added to that is our knowledge of God’s heart for the lost and lonely, and Jesus example and call on the church to go to, and love, the unloved.
An article in the Independent in 2015 claims that Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe, with the article entitled ‘The loneliness epidemic: We are more connected than ever, but are we feeling more alone?’ (Monday 30 March 2015). According to the Department of Health, ‘five million older people say their main companion is the TV set, and almost one in five older people are in contact with family friends and neighbours less than once a week.’ (The Guardian, 22 January 2013)
Counties evangelist, Colin Johnson has been visiting people on their doorstep for many years. Over time, he developed a new approach, asking ‘How can we help,’ instead of ‘come to our church.’ This model of Neighbourhood Chaplains has now been taken by Counties and been developed into a programme that can be adopted and used by churches all across the UK. The training programme, delivered in three modules, will help to equip churches to reach the broken, lost and lonely in their communities, ‘bringing the love of Jesus in word and action to your street.’
Counties are currently running six pilot projects in different parts of the UK, as diverse as Brinnington in Stockport, and Torrington near Barnstable. 100 churches have registered their interest in joining the scheme, and Counties will begin regional training days from this autumn. Training will equip churches with both practical tools, training people to operate as first contact, befrienders and helping hands. Providing a biblical basis for the programme, the training also has a focus on the Gospel, with all those being trained learning how to share their faith, tell their story, listen, and answer tough questions. Guidelines are given for putting policies in place, and launching out with a trained, badged and uniformed team of Neighbourhood Chaplains.
Colin Johnson reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, there is a spiritual thing going on. As Neighbourhood Chaplains, we see human beings as emotional, physical and spiritual and we try to help them emotionally, practically and spiritually.”
To register your interest in training near you, and in your church becoming a member of Neighbourhood Chaplains, please contact Jenny Rossiter at the Counties office, firstname.lastname@example.org 01373 823013.
Welcome to Simon Ladd.
Simon joins Partnership as Regional Co-ordinator for East Anglia and the Midlands, where he will be supporting, encouraging and resourcing leaders and churches. Simon has been a full time church leader for the last 30 years. He pastored in FIEC, Baptist, Pentecostal and Brethren churches. He has also worked in Highpoint Prison and worked on a residential project with 18–25 year old males battling drink, drug and substance addiction.
Simon has been married to Belinda for 30 years and they have three grown up children. If you are in East Anglia or the Midlands, please do get in touch with Simon, he looks forward to hearing from you. He will be contacting leaders in Partnership churches in his area, so please look out for an email from him!
The Joshua Project comes to Gloucester, starting on 5 February 2017.
Glebe Chapel, Newent and Abbey Church, Gloucester are joining together for the course, and and there are spaces for people from other churches to join in. This project promises to be something that will help us grow as followers of Jesus Christ and be more effective in our witness and service.
If you are interested in taking part, please contact Andrew Conlan, Partnership's Regional Co-ordinator for the South West, at email@example.com.
More details of Joshua training can be found at http://www.tilsleycollege.com/tilsley/joshuacentres.html.
Welcome to Andrew Conlan.
Andrew Conlan joins Partnership as the Regional Co-ordinator for the West region in England. He will support the local networking between church leaders and others who are active in church life.
Andrew & Kim met, were baptised and married at Alum Rock Gospel Hall, Birmingham. They retain some links with the city including Andrew’s long-suffering support of the Blues. After Andrew had qualified as an accountant they were volunteers with CMS in Tanzania for a couple of years and later moved to Chard, Somerset returning to their church roots at Combe St Evangelical, now Forefront Community Church. Andrew was part of the leadership for most of the 25 years we were in Chard.
After taking early retirement from accountancy in 2007 he was employed by the church as Team Leader while doing a part time Masters at Moorlands in ‘Christian Leadership’. In 2013 they moved to Gloucester to work with Abbey Church. It is a key aim of the Regional Co-ordinators to bring local clusters into being, but the intention is that the clusters are led by local steering groups or individuals who know the needs in their areas and can shape the local programme of events. If you are in the west of England and want to be involved, please do get in touch with Andrew.
Partners in Partnership
Two churches in the North-East London cluster have joined together in an initiative for sharing the gospel with young families – they have jointly appointed a Church Family Worker.
Four years ago, a ‘health Check’ at Latchett Evangelical Church was conducted by the Church Strengthening Initiative (CSI), and the final report made a number of recommendations for improvement and suggested that the Church could consider a Church Worker with partial financial support from CSI. Three years later, and after the retirement of their ‘Mums & Tots’ group leader, and the subsequent demise of that group, the leadership considered the possibility of seeking funding from CSI for a Worker to develop a new ministry. The outreach of the church was strong in terms of senior citizens, but there was no feed into the church at the lower age range.
About this time another local fellowship, Canfield Road Chapel, was quite independently considering something similar. As the Partnership cluster was beginning to get established in the area the suggestion was made that Canfield (just a mile away) could work in partnership with Latchett and the two churches could share a Worker.
The process of seeking a grant, agreeing terms between the churches, drawing up a Job Description, advertising, short listing and interviewing took about 15 months. Finally, and with the full support of CSI, in mid-June the new Church Family Worker was formally appointed and a Reception and Commissioning event was held. A steering group comprising leaders of each church will be directing the worker and someone not involved directly in that role will act as the Worker’s pastoral support.
Furthermore the two churches, who each serve in well-defined areas of Woodford (and with historical links, having shared the same ‘founding fathers’ in the 1930s) have decided that they will seek out further ways in which they can co-operate and share resources.
Both churches have challenging times ahead, but with the new Worker on board, and with the support of John Jenkins of Partnership, they are looking forward to this fresh approach and seeing Christ build His Church.
By Tim Smith
"It was a joy to welcome new Pastor, Tim Goodall, who started his ministry on May 1. This follows a period of nearly four years since our last Pastor moved on – a period in which we have learnt a great deal.
One of our main concerns has been to find ways of building closer relationships with the many warm contacts we have in the local community. These grow from a pre-school, mid-week clubs and the work of Youth and Community Pastor, James Bell. For some months we had been thinking and praying about the possibility of Messy Church. On April 9 we launched, following on from a holiday club which attracted over 50 children. We had little idea what to expect. In the event 80 people who would not normally be present at church activities came for two hours of varied craft, songs, a short talk and food. The response was enthusiastic, with all wanting more. It’s demanding with a lot of work required but rewarding, creating a space for people who would not attend a ‘normal’ service. We now aim to make it a regular feature of church life."
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