Reverend Steve Jones introduces the St John’s Bridgetown Reordering Project
The Story of St John’s
St John’s has an interesting story to tell. Originally part of the parish of Berry Pomeroy, it was built in 1832 for the rapidly growing suburb of Bridgetown by the Duke of Somerset. Its first minister was the radical preacher, Revd. James Shore. Under his leadership, St John’s left the Church of England for a about thirty years to become the first congregation of the breakaway Free Church of England. St John’s is now part of the parish of Totnes with Bridgetown in the Totnes Team.
Since then Bridgetown has continued to grow. A lot of new homes were built in the post-war period, and major development continues today. St John’s has provided pastoral care for many generations and has a long track record of community engagement and provision.
Today it has become an important centre of the community and its environs, providing much more than just worship facilities. However, the social need continues to escalate and investment is needed to sustain further growth. Bridgetown has a significant loneliness and deprivation problem, and we are looking to expand our community provision – in particular at the present time in response to the national Campaign to End Loneliness. St John’s is the only place of worship and the only major community centre on its side of the river.
The church building is now in need of a major facelift to make it ﬁt for its present-day and future purpose. After a serious ﬁre in 1976 the vision of the then vicar, the Revd. Roy Harris, was for St John’s to become a conference and community centre, as well as a worship centre. The church was reconstructed as a multi-purpose building, but unfortunately much of the work has not stood the test of time.
We are now developing our Seven-year Strategy for the whole building which embodies our vision for progressive development of the interior, and an enhanced frontage and setting of the Grade II listed building and the Totnes conservation area. We are deeply committed to supporting the use of the building in many rich and diverse ways, and the well-being of those who enjoy the welcome and hospitality we naturally want to give each day.
St John’s is built in the Perpendicular Gothic style of robust local stone, having a dominant tower with tall slim pinnacles and mirroring St Mary’s on the other side of the river Dart. It is a Grade II Listed Building situated in the Bridgetown part of the Totnes Conservation area. After the 1976 fire it was restored as a multi-purpose building on three levels, with a modern and functional interior.
The ground floor has a worship area, lobby where refreshments can be served, sub-standard tea and coffee making facilities and toilets. The mezzanine level has a large open space and small meeting room / office. Upstairs on the main first floor level there is a substantial hall, medium-sized meeting room, kitchen and sub-standard storage and toilet accommodation. Each floor is served by a basic lift.
Many items in the restored church were produced locally in South Devon: the ‘Tree of Life’ east window, by Peter Tysoe of Totnes; the fine Baroque organ by William Drake of Buckfastleigh; the church furniture designed by local architect Pedro Sutton and made by Chris Faulkner, of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, from Devon ash; the font bowl turned by local wood turner Rendle Crang and the slate surfaces made by local stonemasons Allwood.
Unfortunately, when the church was restored in 1980 the budget was very tight. This has left a number of ongoing problems, and the building is currently on the Historic England ‘At Risk‘ Register, classed as being in Poor Condition. Some years ago the roof had to be replaced.
The windows on the north and south (liturgical) sides of the church are constructed of untreated softwood timber with a fibreglass cladding. These have decayed over the years to the extent that the whole viability of the entire building is now in jeopardy. This is confirmed by our architect’s Quinquennial Inspection report (2015) and by a Structural Engineer’s report (2016) from Simon Bastone Associates Ltd.
Our architect John Scott states: ‘The windows continue to degrade and it is only a matter of time before they become totally unstable. A programme of replacement is therefore now very urgent, and I am surprised that the windows on the south side have survived the 5 years since the last inspection. The church has been working towards this over the last 5 years and continues to do so.’ Simon Bastone’s report states:
“Given the known defects and vulnerabilities, and the continued exposure to rainwater penetration, further deterioration of the windows is likely to be rapid. The risks will therefore increase with time….. Whilst the windows have lasted over thirty years without failure, they are clearly at the end of their useful lives and require replacement.”
The Project: Windows of Opportunity
Our architect John Scott’s recommendation is for the replacement of ten windows with steel frames. We applied to Heritage Lottery Fund (Grants for Places of Worship) for a grant towards the replacement of all the windows and also included, as the capital element of the project, the complete re-modelling of kitchen and toilet facilities at ground floor level, to include disabled and nappy-changing facilities. This will enable and enhance community use of the building.
We are also planning to engage the local community in the heritage of the building, and the heritage element of our application included: updating and improving the display in the lobby area of the church; publication of leaflets for distribution through the local library, museum, etc.; re-publish the history of the church by our local historian; exhibition and talks; programme of organ recitals; preparation of material for children to use on visits to the church.
In December 2016 we received an offer from Heritage Lottery Fund of £148,000, and since then we have also received £3,450 from the Allchurches Trust. The Building Group is now in the Development Phase of Windows of Opportunity and anticipate that work will take place in 2018. The overall cost of the project is in the region of £230,000, and we are currently submitting applications to funding bodies to meet an anticipated shortfall of approximately £66,000, as well as engaging in fund-raising activities ourselves.
However, we are also treating the current project as a starting point for the renewal and upgrading of our entire building, and are developing a Seven-year Strategy to make it ﬁt for its present-day and future purposes.
Our Vision for the Future
Beyond the re-ordering of the downstairs kitchen and toilet facilities which are part of the current project, we are looking at a complete re-modelling of the downstairs lobby area between the main body of the church and the presently blocked tower. The new kitchen and toilets are planned as an integrated part of ground floor development works including a remodelled vestry, office and reception, which is where we will re-instate the principal access by re-opening the west door at the base of the tower, which has not been in use since the restoration of the church after the ﬁre in 1976. This will also enable the tower to be brought back into use by providing continuous movement from west to east (liturgical) across the whole of the ground floor plan of the church.
With reinstatement of the principal west entrance, a full remodelling of the roadside frontage to create a welcoming environment will provide an important opportunity to enhance both the setting of the grade II listed heritage asset and the significance of the conservation area.
Additionally, a new staircase inserted into the tower will provide direct access to the existing mezzanine level and unlock greater flexibility in the use, access and management of building. The existing lift has reached the end of its useful life and has to be substantially upgraded to meet the need for improved access, and the planned growth in numbers and the age range of visitors comprising both local people and others from a wide area around the town and its environs.
At mezzanine level glazed screens will enable enclosure of the space which will effectively separate it from the upper and lower floor level spaces and their dedicated uses, thus creating a quieter, informal and well-appointed area for informal groups, talks etc. with a small servery and office.
The upper first floor level lobby area is badly run down and a complete mess, having never been properly completed when the church was restored after the ﬁre. This requires a complete remodelling to provide enhanced circulation and access to key first floor areas including new toilet accommodation, upgraded kitchen and substantially improved storage.
The substantial hall needs considerable environmental improvements including radically enhanced acoustic performance, and a new sound proof floor covering to prevent noise transmission to the Worship Area below. The top of the chancel arch at the east end of the hall has been blocked and we plan to open this up and insert a glazed screen to enable the upper section of the existing stained glass window by Peter Tysoe to be visible. This would be the crowning glory of our 7-year programme.