My church is listed so I canʼt change anything, can I?

photo: Natalie MaynorThat is almost never the case! The key thing is to understand the heritage value of the building and its fittings, and make the case for change in light of that. One needs to start from an understanding of why the building is listed, and to what grade (in increasing order of importance the grades are 2, 2* or 1); 90% of listed buildings are grade 2. And then one needs to understand the impact of any proposed changes on the heritage value of the building.

The established denominations (Church of England, Baptist Union, Methodist etc) enjoy what is called ‘Ecclesiastical Exemption’ which means that Listed Building issues are dealt with by the church authorities (Diocesan Advisory Committee, Baptist Union Listed Building Advisory Committee etc). Generally these folk are sympathetic to your aims, provided you can demonstrate that you have thought them through. For other churches, and where the proposals involve an extension of any kind, the Local Authority Conservation Department will also have a say.

Histon Baptist Church was listed during the course of the building project; because the building is unusually ornate for a Baptist church this did not come as a great surprise. The practical implications of this were:

  • another round of permission-seeking was needed from the Baptist Union Listed Building Advisory Committee; this took several meetings and quite some time.
  • some existing fittings needed careful reuse within the building, for example a stone pulpit which was moved and a selection of the pews.
  • the church was able to reclaim the VAT on the alteration works (but not on repairs and maintenance).

So it was not all bad news by any means, and crucially the main thrust of the scheme – creating a prime venue with flexible open space, new lighting and AV equipment – was successfully achieved.

Photo credit: Natalie Maynor

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