St Philip and St James’s church, Grafton Road, Cheltenham, GL50 2DD

Briefing sheet distributed at the AGM on 24th March 2015 on the proposed redesign of the Church:

Briefing sheet distributed at the AGM on 24th March 2015 on the proposed redesign of the Church:

A vision for our building:  ‘A People of Pilgrimage and a Place of Hospitality’


This brief paper provides a summary of the Church Council’s outline proposals for redesigning the interior of St Philip and St James Church, Leckhampton.  It has been prepared as a briefing sheet for the AGM held on 24th March 2015.  These proposals will be subject to an in-depth consultation process with a wide range of groups inside and beyond the congregation over the summer of 2015.  As such, the Church Council is keen that this document should be the starting point of a conversation which will enable the plans to be developed and improved over the coming year.


For thirty years, we have sought to create a more flexible worship and community resource in the service of our mission and for the benefit of our local community.  For various reasons these plans have all fallen by the wayside.

From 2001 to 2006 there was the ‘Community Centre Project’ aiming to build a community centre in the car park area, financed by the sale of Church House.  Planning permission was granted for this; however, potential high running costs led to a reconsideration of reordering the church interior. During the vacancy from 2006 to 2008, there was the ‘Narthex/Open Reach Project’ which aimed to build a multi-storey set of internal rooms at the back of Church; however, it was realised that the foundations were unable to bear the weight.  With the arrival of a new vicar, it was decided to retain Church House.  From 2009-2012, the ‘Open Reach II’ project was developed which aimed to remove pews, enhance the west and south entrances, install underfloor heating, create a new vestry, toilet and rooms in the north and south aisles, redesign Church House and landscape the garden area.

What have we learnt and what has changed?

Through this, we have learnt several important lessons:

  • This is a tough and complex project, requiring dedicated resources
  • We need to consult widely with the community and listen to their response
  • We need to negotiate creatively with the heritage bodies and the DAC
  • We need a realistic funding strategy for a once in a generation change to this Church

A number of things have also changed in recent years:

  • We have balanced our annual income and expenditure
  • We have a fulltime administrator and a curate arriving Summer 2015
  • By October 2015 we will have completed £293,000 of Church repairs.
  • We now have a new strategic plan for 2015-2019 setting out five key goals for our ministry and mission

The Vision

The Church Council now feels that the time is right to explore this reordering again.  We are a thriving Church, serving an affluent suburban population from two grade II/II* listed buildings which are currently not fit for purpose.  Church House is in need of significant maintenance and modernisation and has no disabled access.  Meanwhile our historic, vaulting Church space is failing to serve our needs because of the large number of pews, poor heating and lack of facilities.

In 2013 the Church Council explored a renewed vision for the creation of a flexible worship and community space for ‘a people of pilgrimage’ which provides ‘a place for hospitality’.  We reflected together on being a pilgrim people; on the journeys of Abraham, Moses, Samuel and Jesus.  We noted that worshipping in pews offers us little opportunity to move and be moved by our worship.  We explored the idea of having a flexible Holy space which could change with the church year.  The altar and chairs could be in differing positions to reflect our sense of being a pilgrim people who are moved, disturbed and made uncomfortable by the presence of the living God.

We also reflected on being a place of hospitality, and the radically inclusive offer we make to all who worship with us to share Holy Communion.  We explored the heritage of our great cathedrals as liminal spaces where the sacred and secular meet.  We explored the idea that pews have stolen the Church of England from the people of England, creating often empty buildings and a requirement for church halls.  From this we explored a vision of a flexible hospitable space, without pews, that could host community events, exhibitions, concerts, workshops or a café.

What would this look like?

Following these conversations, the Church Council passed a motion approving a reordering.  We propose that the sanctuary area east of the chancel screen remains unchanged.  Further, we propose that all of the pews in the nave are removed from the Church, and that most of them are moved to St Stephen’s to replace their benches.  Until we have appointed an architect, the shape of this reordering is tentative; however, we would explore the creation of an office, renewed vestries, kitchen, meeting rooms and toilets which would require some sensitive subdivision of the space within the Church.  We would also improve disabled access and renew the heating, lighting and sound.

How would we fund this?

This reordering may cost £1-1.5m.  The Church Council is of the view that we can no longer afford the upkeep of two grade II/II* listed buildings and that we should sell Church House in the Summer of 2016 to fund this project.  It is likely that Church House would be developed into residential flats.  Some of the groups that currently meet there would be able to meet in a reordered Church building, others would need to find a new venue.  Members of the Church Council will be in touch with hall users following the AGM to discuss this with them.

The Way ahead

The Diocesan Advisory Committee on reorderings has reviewed our ideas, visited the Church and given us a broadly positive response.  The Church Council now looks forward to hearing the initial views of the congregation at the AGM.  We plan to appoint a project manager and architect later this spring to undertake a consultation process and develop our plans.

In the spring of 2016 we would hope to submit a formal faculty application to the Diocese.  In summer 2016 Church House would be sold and in the autumn the work would begin.  The congregation would need to worship elsewhere and we would hope the work would be complete in 2017.  This timescale can only be taken as a broad indication of our intent.

Your elected Church Council, as Trustees having responsibility for both buildings, has thought long and hard about these plans and looks forward to hearing a wide range of views at the AGM.  We will be in touch with Church House users later this week.  We will launch an in-depth consultation process over the summer.  We look forward to improving these plans together.

Getting in touch

Should you have thoughts or questions in the meantime, please feel free to email us at

The Church Council


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