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St Leonard's Church in Hastings, East Sussex. Photo courtesy of Hastings Older Women’s Co-Housing Community Land Trust.
St Leonard's Church in Hastings, East Sussex. Photo courtesy of Hastings Older Women’s Co-Housing Community Land Trust.

A New Life for Deconsecrated Churches in England

22 December 2022

The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is excited to announce two new grants to advance plans to give deconsecrated churches in Norwich and Hastings a new lease of life. These grants were among 12 awards given out at the latest grants meeting, where projects ranging geographically from Paisley, Scotland to Somerset, England were offered funding totalling £103,181.

You can read more about the projects in Norwich and Hastings below.


Image: The interior of St Margaret's Church in Norwich, Norfolk. Photo courtesy of Gallery at St Margaret’s CIC and Norwich Historic Churches Trust. 

St Margaret's Church, Norwich, Norfolk - Gallery at St Margaret’s CIC and Norwich Historic Churches Trust

St Margaret’s Church is situated in the Norwich City Centre Conservation Area. Originally founded before 1000, this Grade I-listed former parish church was rebuilt in flint and stone in the 13th and 14th centuries. After closing as a place of worship in 1974, it was later sold to Norwich City Council and leased to Norwich Historic Churches Trust (NHCT). For 25 years, it was used as exhibition space, becoming known locally as the ‘Church of Art.’ Today, the building has been vacant since 2020, and NHCT are now in the process of concluding extensive repairs to its structure and fabric, funded by Historic England and the Norwich Freemen’s Charity.

The Gallery at St Margaret’s CIC was set up to re-open and operate the newly restored church as a relaxed bar with a baby grand piano and changing art exhibitions. While the building will open for exhibitions in the daytime, the piano bar will open to the public during the evening, as well as to support exhibition opening events. In order to fulfil this vision of extending use of the building into the evenings and year-round, The Gallery at St Margaret’s plan to install heating and upgraded lighting, add new toilets, and reinstate the north porch door as an accessible emergency exit. With sustainability in mind, the group are considering the use of an air-source heat pump, which will reduce both the use of fossil fuels and the cost of heating in the long term.

The AHF grant will fund the cost of a structural engineer, an architect and an archaeologist to monitor the works, as well as investigative surveys needed to inform the installation of underfloor heating and the air source heat pump.


The exterior of St Leonard's Church in Hastings, East Sussex. Photo courtesy of Hastings Older Women’s Co-Housing Community Land Trust. 

St Leonard's Church, Hastings, East Sussex - Hastings Older Women’s Co-Housing Community Land Trust

In contrast to the aforementioned St Margaret’s, St Leonard’s Church is a relatively modern church constructed in 1953-61. Designed by Sir Giles and Adrian Gilbert Scott in the late Gothic style, the building has a large tower facing out to the sea and sits in a prominent site, making it well-known within Hastings and St Leonards. The interior reflects a nautical theme, with mosaic flooring, stained glass and unusual parabolic arches. The last service was held Christmas 2015 and the church was deconsecrated in 2017. It has stood empty since with no use found, in part because of the poor state of the cliff to the rear, which needs stabilising.

Hastings Older Women’s Co-Housing (HOWCH) plan to acquire the church and grounds, with an aim to transform it into a mixed-use, community-owned site consisting of two main elements: climbing and co-housing. The first element of the transformation is to restore the church as an indoor bouldering/climbing centre, with café and events space. The second element includes building sustainable co-housing for older women within the grounds of the church, providing affordable housing and communal facilities. Their overall vision is to deliver a sustainable, inclusive scheme that enhances people’s health and well-being.

Development works for the project can only begin once essential stabilisation works have been completed to the cliff behind the church. The AHF grant will enable a geotechnical engineer to survey the cliff and provide an appraisal and potential costs. It will also fund the cost of an architect and quantity surveyor.

These two awards, along with four additional grants in England, were the final batch of Project Viability Grants to be awarded under the Transforming Places through Heritage (TPtH) programme. Applications for Project Viability Grants are now closed. The final deadline for applications for Project Development Grants under TPtH is 9th January.

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