After more than a decade of work to bring Sheerness Dockyard Church back to life as a new enterprise centre and cultural hub for the community, the £9.5m restoration project has been completed, and the building will be open to the public for a Community Open Day on Saturday 22nd July.
Image: The exterior of Sheerness Dockyard Church after its restoration. Credit to Dirk Lindner.
The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is very pleased that its early-stage grants were able to help kickstart this fantastic project. Three Project Development Grants, awarded in 2015, 2016, and 2018 respectively, helped Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust to develop its plans for the building and ultimately secure a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with match-funding by Historic England. The project also received further support from numerous other trusts and foundations.
Built in 1828, the neo-classical Grade II* listed former church was designed by George Ledwell Taylor, Surveyor of Buildings to the Navy. Conceived as part of John Rennie’s comprehensive re-design of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Sheerness, the church’s massive Ionic portico and clocktower announced the entrance to the Dockyard and held pride of place alongside the new residences built for the Naval Officers. Rebuilt and embellished after a fire in 1881, the church served the community until the 1970s, when it was deconsecrated. It was later used variously as a sports club and youth centre, before being left severely damaged and roofless by a second major fire in 2001.
Now, thanks to Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust, Sheerness Dockyard Church has been rescued from ruin and restored to its former glory. Designed by Hugh Broughton Architects in collaboration with conservation specialists, Martin Ashley Architects, the faithful restoration of the church’s exterior includes extensive repairs to the brick and stonework, and the complete reconstruction of the clocktower, as well as new windows, doors, decorative railings and a roof, which has been built to match the original profile from the early 19th century designs by architect, George Ledwell Taylor. Inside the building, there are further examples of original features that have been conserved or reproduced, including a fully rebuilt cantilever stone stair and conserved and redecorated fluted cast iron columns. Following the completion of the project, the Dockyard Church has now been taken off Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.
Images: The interior of Sheerness Dockyard Church before (left - credit to James Brittain) and after (right - credit to Dirk Lindner) its restoration.
The building is now home to ‘Island Works’, a new enterprise centre managed and run by Fruitbowl Media as a co-working space in partnership with The Kent Foundation, who provide business support for young people aged 16 to 30 starting and growing their businesses. This includes hosting free workshops, advisory sessions and events. The multi-purpose space also contains meeting rooms, a flexible event space, a public café, and a small, quiet contemplation space dedicated to the fascinating history of the church. Additionally, visitors can view sections of the great Dockyard Model, which have also been conserved, and are displayed in bespoke movable cases around the building.
Will Palin, Chairman of Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust, said:
"The vital early support we had from the Architectural Heritage Fund enabled us to establish our Building Preservation Trust, appoint a project manager, develop our plans for the restoration and reuse of Dockyard Church, and put together a Round 1 application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Alongside this grant support, the AHF provided expert advice and were crucial in giving us the confidence to follow through this transformative project. Without the AHF, the church would still likely be a ruin.”
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