'An attractive place of freshness and light'
Ian Goldby on the completion of a major refurbishment of East Leake Baptist Church's historic Grade II listed building
On Saturday 11 September, East Leake Baptist Church (Nottinghamshire) held an open day to celebrate the completion of a six-year long project to refurbish their grade II listed chapel. By opening up the building and inviting in the village we hoped to raise awareness of the church and attract new users of the building.
The day coincided with the Ride and Stride event of the National Churches Trust, so we were able to combine the two events.
Back in 2015 we had had a vision to increase the number of outside groups using the building by making it a safe and welcoming place for all.
But reality was far from the vision. The layout of the chapel, with fixed pews along the walls and a central raised pew platform, made it impractical for any uses other than seated events. We had also had incidents of visitors tripping on the steps either side of the platform and we are fortunate that no one had been seriously hurt.
Furthermore, a recent building condition report had made it clear that the large bore heating system was reaching the end of its life and likely to fail at any time, with complete replacement being the only viable option.
As for the general state of the building, the word ‘tatty’ would have been generous.
We began researching options, and, with the helpful advice of the Listed Buildings Advisory Committee (LBAC) of the Baptist Union, we determined that an underfloor heating system would be ideal. Not only does it provide a good level of comfort in a very unobtrusive and safe way, underfloor heating is beneficial for old buildings like ours because it maintains a much more even temperature than other types.
It took two years of planning and consultation before we were finally able to submit our formal proposal to the LBAC and obtain approval. Only then could we obtain tenders for the work and then begin applying for grants.
By September 2019 we had raised a good amount of money but were still short of our goal and appeared to have reached a plateau.
Since we were very reluctant to take on debt, we looked again at the project to see what we could possibly trim off.
Confident that we could meet the cost of our chosen main contractor and the heating contractor, we decided to take a step of faith, kicking off the construction phase and trusting God that he would provide the remaining funds we needed in due time. Within a few weeks of that decision we had two more grants in the bag that brought us up to our original target. That provided us with a strong message of encouragement that God was blessing our project.
That the heating system had, against all expectation, continued to limp on well into borrowed time, through the six winters since that building condition report, was another blessing. There was a particular joint, unbeknown to us, that must have been held together by prayer alone. The moment the builders started removing pipes it crumbled into a pile of rusty dust.
Unsurprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic greatly slowed down the building work, but we achieved final sign-off in July 2021.
The result is one that we as a church are justifiably very proud of. Many of our visitors have remarked how bright and airy the chapel now is. We have a new colour scheme and a smart, level oak floor. The chairs are re-covered. And we have a much-improved audio-visual system. The whole refurbishment has been completed in a way that is very much sympathetic to the original building, preserving an important part of our heritage and making it fit for the 21st century.
We have also refitted the kitchen to a high standard so that we can serve hot meals, and installed radiators in the toilets, which previously were unheated.
Our building used to be one of drab tiredness. Now it is an attractive place of freshness and light.
But the building is very much a means, not an end. We now want to use it to build relationships with members of the local community, to meet people’s needs, and to share the good news of God’s Kingdom here in East Leake.
Ian Goldby is a member of the church leadership team at East Leake Baptist Church. This story is used with the permission of the East Midlands Baptist Association