Community use of redundant church buildings
Responding to UK government Culture Secretary Andy Burnham's suggestion that redundant church buildings should be turned into gyms or community centres, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said that "imaginative strategies" are needed when particular church buildings prove unsustainable. These need to recognise the "changing demography of belief, religious practice, architectural heritage and community use in Britain today."
He pointed out that many local churches "have been using their buildings creatively and in partnership with others in the local community for many years. In some situations the buildings that have been inherited are beautiful but not adaptive or cost-effective for contemporary congregational life. In other cases they can be adapted or shared. And in some cases the answer is to transition to new use."
Barrow continued: "There is no one solution. But both churches and communities including those of other faith and no religious affiliation have an interest in what happens. Proposals need to be fair, transparent and open. This is a good opportunity to rethink relationships and possibilities of engagement between religious and non-religious civic groups."
One Welsh church worker told Ekklesia that a good solution to unsustainable buildings in some areas might be to make them over free of chrage to community ownership and funding, with the former congregation a stakeholder in a new partnership arrangement.
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