Project Route Map

Church Plus | Nigel Walter

2.3 Possible Partners

Back in medieval times, the church stood in the centre of its community, both physically, and in terms of its place in people’s minds. The Victorians then ejected the community activity from the churches, building church and village halls to accommodate those activities, in an attempt to make the church more ‘sacred’. That separation of church from community, which was never the best of ideas, is now being renegotiated in all manner of different ways by church communities in different places. This section looks at some of the typical partnerships this entails, and the benefits and challenges they present.

Before considering any partnership, the key question to address is what business it is that you as a church are in. Only then will you be able to choose the right partner to fit with your mission priorities – for more on this, see section 1.2 on Purpose. The question, therefore, is who you could partner with that would complement your vision, widen your mission and, perhaps, contribute to the costs of the project.

Why Work With Others?

Let’s face it, life is much simpler when you have fewer people to please; bringing other users into your building makes the running of that building much more complex. So if you’re going down this road, you need to be clear why you are doing it, and what the benefits are to your ‘core business’. Ultimately you need to believe this is what you are called to do and to be. And we have a compelling model for this – life would have been much easier for God had he chosen to retain his sovereignty and detachment, rather going through the pain and mess of the incarnation. Easier, yes, but clearly that was not the point.

Some Possible Partners

  • Childcare: In many areas of the country, particularly in areas of population growth, there is a shortage of pre-school childcare. Some churches provide this themselves, while others allow an outside business to operate from the building; either way you get the significant benefit of footfall of parents and carers to the building during the day. Childcare can work very well with a cafe. Don’t be surprised if the community fails to distinguish between church and non-church users in the building…
  • Cafe: It is unlikely you will be providing space for outside operators such as Costa or Starbucks; for a discussion of other options on this spectrum see section 2.4 on Cafés.
  • Local Services: Depending on the nature of your area, other community facilities such as a local library or healthcare outreach can work well. The key here is to work with your Local Authority / Healthcare Trust to understand where the areas of need are. There are a number of rural examples in historic churches, for example in Hereford Diocese.
  • Community Shop: In rural areas where the post office has closed there may be an appetite within the area to run a community shop – St Leonard’s in Yarpole, again in Hereford Diocese, is one example.
  • Training Providers: for many people it is a lack of training that prevents them from playing an active part in society, so training provision can fit well with a church’s mission aims. Again, the key is to understand where the local need lies. This might be computer training for the young or for the old; it might be catering training; it might be training for those with disabilities; it might be coaching for employment.

St Paul’s, Old Ford in East London is an example of a church with multiple partners, all of them charitable; the building houses a cafe, IntoUniversity (an after school club supporting young people into higher education), and Ability Bow, a fully equipped gym catering particularly for those with disabilities. It is an excellent and financially sustainable mix, but one that took a long time to fall into place. Revd Philippa Boardman was the vicar of St Paul’s when the building was transformed from a closed eyesore into the thriving community hub that it is now.

Enabling Development

If you have a large site you may find that an enabling development (typically of housing) is a possibility. The model is that the church is able to realise some of the development value of the land, and use this to either adapt or replace their existing building. This of course depends on your specific location, the potential impact of any development on adjacent areas, and on the character of the area as a whole. Open market commercial development will always deliver more money, but working with a Registered Social Landlord (Housing Association) may be a better fit with your mission, and is often looked on more sympathetically by the planners.

The key, as always, is to find the right partner. Archangel Architects and Penoyre and Prasad are currently working with East Thames Housing to provide 28 mixed tenure homes at Holy Cross Church in Hornchurch, East London, which is funding a series of works to the church which will place it back in the centre of its community.

Some Principles

  • Hospitality – if you are going to have other users in your building, make sure you welcome them – you are in the business of godly hospitality, so it is important your welcome is not a grudging one.
  • Key people – without people, a building is dead. If you are going to rent space to another party, it is important that there is a good fit between the individuals and the ethos of the church – for example, a sour face in a cafe will affect the life of your whole building. How you exert influence over that can be a difficult issue.
  • ‘Show me the money’ – be clear whether you are wanting commercial rent for the facilities you provide, and/or a capital contribution to a building project, or whether you are offering your facility in some other way; one implication of money is that sets up an expectation of ownership of whatever kind. You need to be clear about the financial basis of your relationship with any partner.
  • ‘Sovereignty’ – if this involves a lease agreement then please take the trouble to set this up in a proper legal manner; it is much better to pay a modest legal fee at the outset in a controlled fashion, than to have an open-ended legal bill for a process outside of your control when the relationship turns sour. It is hugely important to be able to reclaim the space you are leasing in case your own needs as a church change – you therefore need a formal legal agreement with a time limit on it.