This whole thing started when I first took up my ministry at Hook Norton Baptist Church. When I came to the church to preach, years before I was called as pastor, my first impression of the church was very positive; the welcome, the fellowship, their authenticity and their love for God. My impression of the chapel was less positive!
The chapel was built in the late 1700s as a simple “meeting room” with an open space on the ground floor and a gallery at the west end of the chapel. It would have been very plain with whitewashed walls, lovely Georgian arched windows (no stained glass) and that would have been about it!
During the Victorian period, boxed pews were added, a raised pulpit, and two extensions down the north and south side of the chapel obscuring the lovely tall windows.
During the 20th century a boiler room was added to the external south wall, with a blue brick chimney. Many minor repairs were undertaken with parts of the old lime plaster being replaced by modem gypsum plaster, modern paints were used, the Victorian pews removed, and the gaps between the raised pew plinths covered with wooden planks. Electric bar strip heaters and florescent strip lights were added.
Over more recent years, and convection heaters were added, the Georgian window hoppers sealed in an attempt to keep out the draft. Unfortunately, the chapel suffered with a damp problem. The building smelt musty and felt clammy aggravated by the condensation running down each window.
All in all, the condition of the chapel was unwelcoming, uncomfortable and it looked unloved with paint flaking off the walls and ceiling and obvious areas of damp staining the walls.
One of my first duties as pastor in September 2015 was to ask for a copy of the last quinquennial inspection. This is a survey of the condition of church buildings that should be conducted every five years. It seemed the chapel had never had one!
An inspection was ordered and a few months later the report was published with a long string of items that needed to be dealt with to repair and prevent further damage to the fabric of the chapel.
At first look, I naively thought that £25,000 to £30,000 would sort it out, but it soon became apparent that we neither had the expertise or the resources available to complete all the work.
After some months praying it through, the church agreed to appoint an an architect to look at the work needed and come up with a plan for us. I approached four local architects after a Google search, and only two firms responded. Of those two, one agreed to meet me at the chapel, Peter Preston.
I showed Peter around the chapel and gave him a copy of the quinquennial inspection for his review. I also shared my vision for the church and how the chapel was fundamental to the church mission. I was taken my his enthusiasm, his faith and how he ran with the vision! Peter went on to tell me the cause of the damp issues, the remedy and how the building didn’t meet current legislation around building control, fire safety, etc.
Peter also went on to say that my estimate needed to be multiplied by ten to be anywhere near the cost of the renovation, but he was confident that the majority of the costs could be covered by grant funding.
Peter went away to produce a report of his findings and returned a few months later and presented them to the leadership. The leadership, in turn, took them to the church meeting, and the renovation project was born!
I sincerely believe that this project to make the chapel comfortable, attractive and sustainable is absolutely key to the future of the church. Over the almost five years I have been pastor we have had many “visitors” from the village attend a Sunday morning service, seem to be comfortable with the welcome from church folk, but have never returned.
This project will address all the issues with damp and make the chapel more attractive. The low-carbon heating and lighting will make it more sustainable and will be a good witness for us as a church as we look at ways to protect our planet. The fittings and decor will be more in-keeping with the original Georgian design, and the building brought up to date to meet modern day regulations.