St Andrew’s Blagdon wins national innovation award

The Space@St Andrew’s, a project to create a community area in the beautiful Grade II* listed church of St Andrew’s in the village of Blagdon in Somerset, has won the first ‘Marsh Award for Innovative Projects’.

Following the creation of a new flexible use open space, the church is now serving the community in many new ways. These include ‘Wi-Fi Wednesday’, helping villagers of all ages to get online; ‘Prayers and Bears’, a toddler group; and  ‘Monday Mix’, a weekly social afternoon for elderly people with activities such as scrabble, crafts and jigsaws and tea and cake.

The winners of the ‘Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects’ were announced by the Dean of Wakefield, the Very Rev Jonathan Greener, at the Churches Trust Forum Annual Conference at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in York on 19 May 2016. David Sisson, Chairman of the Somerset Churches Trust, which nominated The Space@StAndrew’s for the award, presented the award to the church on Wednesday, 25 May.

‘The Marsh Awards for Innovative Projects’, a new awards scheme launched in 2015 and  run jointly by the National Churches Trust and the Marsh Christian Trust, are designed to show the positive impact that installing new facilities such as kitchens and toilets has on churches and local communities and on harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers. St Andrew’s church was awarded a £1,000 prize.

See the different ways in which St. Andrew’s is serving its community in the gallery below.

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said:

“I’m delighted that the superb project to open up St Andrew’s church in Blagdon, Somerset, to greater use by local people for activities including getting people online, a toddler group and for social events and art exhibitions has won the first ‘Marsh Award for Innovative Projects’.

“The church worked incredibly hard to make sure that local people were consulted on how to make the building more welcoming and accessible. The result, The Space@St Andrew’s, a flexible and fully accessible space which includes toilets and a kitchen, is now used extensively by local people and the church has become an invaluable local community centre.”

Following a major consultation among church members and the wider village, in 2014 it was decided to make St Andrew’s church more welcoming and accessible for community use. As a result, a flexible open space was created by removing pews and a mezzanine floor was added, the area separated from the church by a glazed screen to the tower arch. A second phase of the project created pods at the end of each aisle, with fully accessible toilets, a kitchen, and a utility room.  The total cost of the project was £218,000, with £123,000 raised through local fund raising.

The Revd Jane Chamberlain, Rector, Blagdon with Compton Martin and Ubley, said:

This project was never about just ‘putting in a lavatory and a servery’. It was always about asking the bigger question: ‘What kind of church is God calling us to be?’ We asked this question boldly and prayerfully and it led us to a fresh vision for St Andrew’s, one strand of which was to reach out and serve the community. The re-ordering of the church was necessary in order for us to realise this dream.

“The church is now serving the community in ways that we could not have imagined at the start: Monday Mix (a social afternoon for elderly people with activities such as scrabble, crafts and jigsaws and tea and cake) , Wifi Wednesday, Prayers and Bears, hosting the village toddler group, charity lunches, funeral teas and even a wedding reception.

“The Space@StAndrew’s has also enabled us to diversify our pattern of worship so we now have a monthly Cafe Church and a Taize-style service which reach different congregations. We have hosted concerts, art exhibitions, mosaic, flower arranging and card-making workshops and a talk on dementia. The Pilgrim course runs regularly in the Upper Room.

“Winning the first ‘Marsh Award for Innovative Projects’ is a real honour and I hope and pray that those who have supported the project in so many ways will receive this as further affirmation of our journey together along the path of God’s call. Perhaps more importantly it will encourage other churches who are contemplating something like this to try to do so as part of a bigger picture of asking ‘What kind of Church is God calling us to be – here, at this time, in our place?’ The answers won’t be the same for everyone!”

Users of The Space@St Andrew’s include ‘Wi-Fi Wednesday’, helping villagers of all ages to get online; ‘Prayers and Bears’, a toddler group; ‘Monday Mix’, a weekly social afternoon; exhibitions by local artists as part of the Chew Valley Arts Trail; and the Blagdon Mosaic Project, which created a permanent depiction of village life.

The activities are all run by volunteers and self-funded by participants, following an initial investment from the church using a small legacy designated for community support.


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