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Development a 'template' for struggling churches?

The creative way an Oxfordshire Baptist Church is being transformed could offer a solution to other church developments

Chipping Norton250That’s the view of those helping to oversee the renovation of Chipping Norton Baptist Church.

The project began in May and will see the historic building renovated and refurbished as a centre of worship for the community, as well as the addition of eight affordable two-bedroom apartments.

It is being carried out by B&R Developments, a small company set up and run specifically for this purpose by three committed people, one of them being a church member, after partnerships with traditional property developers failed to bear fruit.

Joe Rice is both a deacon and one of those behind B&R, which has worked in close consultation with the Baptist Union on the project. He explained that the developers see the project as a “win-win situation for all”.

‘Not only does the church receive a restored beautiful building for their worship and communal activity, but the project is also providing eight affordable homes in a location that is desperate for good housing,’ he said.

‘B&R Developments are committed to creating developments which can benefit a wide range of people within the local community rather than to develop larger 'executive' properties.

‘I really think this is a route other churches struggling with old, inefficient buildings could take.’

The present church, which has been empty for over five years, was completed in 1816 – although the official founding of the Baptist Church congregation was more than a century earlier in 1694.

Extensive work is required, as the interior of the site “looks like a bomb site after years of neglect”, explained Joe. However, the brick structure is in good order, and once restored will again make an impressive sight along New Street. The work is progressing well, with the majority of the rubble and interiors now removed.

Joe said the church community itself is “incredibly excited” about the project.

Chipping Norton2 300The church currently meets at the Highlands Day Centre on the Burford Road every second and fourth Sunday, with ‘Messy’ Church on the third Sunday. There is an informal Friday evening service each week, with food, worship and a talk. Whereas previously the church held up to 1,000 people, it has been redesigned to seat 150.

‘Not only will it provide the church family with a meeting point, but it will also enable them to reach out to the community and share what they already do from a more formalised and permanent location,’ Joe said.  

He added that Chipping Norton Baptist was “a church for the unchurched”. A number of the congregation have severe disabilities; others are drawn from the traveller community. Several have started coming after their contact with the North Oxfordshire Foodbank, which is run by Joyce Rice, the church’s Lay Pastor.  ‘They can see that the church cares for them,’ said Joe.

Joyce was invited by the Church to take on the role of Lay Pastor. She and Joe have now been involved for around five years. ‘It’s a hard mission field, and we could do with more workers,’ said Joe, ‘but we do feel that God has called us to do a job here.’ 

Both developer and church hope to open the new building in May 2016.

B&R Developments aims to deliver bespoke solutions in churches like Chipping Norton Baptist, and is currently taking on new projects. Contact office@bandrltd.com | 01608 641600

Baptist Times, 07/07/2015
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