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How did Histon Baptist Church improve the use of its buildings?

How did Histon’s vision for the project come about?

Histon Baptist Church had a vision to improve the use of its church buildings. What was fantastic is that from the start they were knew they had issues and were incredibly motivated to make those positive changes. Initially the team at Histon were looking to improve the use of the space within the church as the pews made the worship space rigid.

As part of the initial proposal we carried out a needs analysis to look for other potential avenues for improvement. As part of this assessment we asked questions to better understand the present and future needs of the church. The analysis highlighted an interesting option that the church might consider. Works to the entrance would dramatically improve the use of the buildings as a whole, and make the church more approachable.

Very sensibly the church chose to carry out the works to the entrance first, since the fear was that if the worship space was done first then the entrance works would never be done. The list of improvement works included changing the:

  • Unwelcoming entrance (the entrance created in the 1980s was hidden around the corner, and
    not visible as you approached)
  • Divided Building
  • Inflexible space

Helping the church membership see the vision brought to life

As a Baptist Church, decisions needed the formal approval of everyone in the church membership. Our experience has shown that its vital to get the overall vision of the project presented to all stakeholders in the project as clearly and simply as possible. Our team presented 3D visualisations of the proposed to works to over 70 member of  the church on a projector so that everybody could see what was proposed. As part of this process several changes to the scheme were made in response to feedback from the meeting.


We were able to present a walk-through of the proposals to a meeting of church members. The quality of the visual material was helpful in building consensus and achieving approval for the scheme.

Phase 1 – Making the church more visible, approachable and easy to navigate – 2006

The former entrance, as seen from the outside.

The former entrance to the church (exterior)

The former entrance, as seen from the inside.

The former entrance to the church (interior)

The new entrance to Histon Baptist Church

At the outset Histon Baptist Church approached a number of architects for a project comprising the re-ordering of the church and access improvements to the main door of the church. Our suggestion was that the church should also consider resolving the access and interconnectivity issues for the buildings as a whole, and this wider strategic view resonated with the church, and resulted in our appointment.

An earlier project from the 1980’s had joined the two original buildings together and added several useful rooms, but had never properly connected the church to the rest of the buildings. The only connection between the church and the rest of the building was a single narrow door, and there was no view into the church at all. We likened the buildings to a grumpy couple sulkily facing away from one another. Added to this the main entrance doors were hidden round a corner – you had to know where to go, which was very off-putting for first-time visitors.

Our solution was to move the entrance so that it is fully visible and to introduce generous glazing. This also involved raising the cill of a major stone mullioned window, and creating new folding glazed doors underneath this.  As Minister Ron Day said:

“The first phase gave access to the church for the community from the rest of the buildings. It also gave access to the community for the church. A floor to ceiling triple glass door, instead of a single small solid and usually locked one. The welcome area, with a glazed roof, became our meeting ground.”

The stroke of genius on the part of the church was to delay the re-ordering of the church to a second phase, and to deal with the entrance and circulation first. This allowed the church to give adequate time to the sensitive issues around changing the ‘sacred space’, rightly aware that people may struggle with this; there was also a concern that with the re-ordering as the ‘main point’, if this was done first then the strategically important circulation works would never follow.

After Phase 1 was completed in 2007, “there was more cross-over but the community continued to see the worship area as drab, daunting and forbidding with its dark wood and pews.” So the church began working towards Phase 2.

What happens when your church becomes a listed building half way through the project?

At the outset of the project the buildings were not listed, but early discussion with the planners resulted in English Heritage listing the buildings! This was met with dismay at the time, and this certainly extended the time involved in realising phase 1, but in the end the church was able to achieve all of its aims.

Since HBC is part of the Baptist Union, Listed Buildings issues were dealt with by the Baptist Union Listed Building Advisory Committee (BULBAC), though Listed Building permission was also required from the local authority because there was an extension element involved with the entrance. Because of the listing, the church had to consider reuse for a number of historic items, including the pews (some of which were retained around the perimeter), a stone pulpit (which was moved within the church) and some oak panelling (which was refixed elsewhere in the building). On the positive side, the alteration works were zero-rated for VAT, saving a substantial amount of money.

Detailed design for both phases was completed at the outset, and Listed Building permission achieved for both, so there was not delay in embarking on Phase 2.

Phase 2 – Transforming the Church

The former layout of the church

The former layout of the church

The former layour of the church

The former layour of the church (side view)

The contemporary transformation of Histon Baptist Church

The church itself was fully pewed, and therefore had a very fixed layout. This was fine for formal worship, but less good for informal worship and concerts, and really unhelpful for accommodating 200 children for events such as the annual Holiday Club in July.

The church wanted to achieve flexibility of use within the space, and to provide a high quality space that would be the venue of choice in the village. The default seating arrangement is with seats in a quarter-circle, giving a greater sense of inclusion. Alongside this flexibility it was important to retain the ability to have a formal seating plan in rows for events such as funerals and weddings. This was achieved with a movable piece of staging:

“The second phase is producing the ‘wow’ factor asked for. Visitors are impressed at the quality of build and the usability and flexibility of the space. The church has been reoriented by 45 degrees but retains the ability to ‘formalise’ for weddings and funerals. In our first service back in the 110 year old building we circled the seats, put the communion table at the centre of the room and gathered to worship.”

Phase 2 also included relaying of a new oak floor with underfloor heating, new modern lighting that strikes a deliberate contrast with the wooden roof structure, and a new AV installation including a powerful projector and dedicated sound desk at the rear. Phase 2 has transformed the church to give a genuinely useful space for community events as well as worship, and places the church where it belongs at the centre of a vibrant community.

“In all the attention to detail given by Archangel, Nigel did not lose sight of the goal: to produce a modern flexible space where we can worship and do other things to bring glory to God and others can meet in warm and kind surroundings.”


Archangel provided a full architectural service including Design Development and presentation to the church (“It was really useful to have the architect come to a church meeting to explain the concept and answer questions”), negotiation and submission of planning, liaison over Listed Building issues, dealing with Building Regulations, preparation of construction drawings and specification, invitations to tender and subsequent negotiation and administration of the building contract; in short, everything from the first conversation through to the hand0ver of the completed project.


“Brilliant work, Nigel. Thanks for staying on top of it. People love the stage and the box section at the front. The woods blend well too.”