On the drawing board this week is a conversion of a Methodist Church into a dedicated community space for a pre-school, before and after-school club and Scouts.  For the past few years, the Church balanced the existing community organisations with the worship needs of their congregation; but this year found that they were unable to continue to offer regular services due to a declining congregation.  The Bradford North Methodist Church Circuit recognised the importance of the community work that was on-going and future possibilities, therefore sought to adapt the premises to ensure the long term future of the building and its place within the community, with support from ourselves and Batty France Building Consultants.

Currently each of the existing three organisations cram themselves into a single space at the rear of the church buildings, which results in a careful and well-orchestrated ‘dance’ at the beginning and end of the day as the three groups ‘hand-over’ the space.  The existing facilities are challenging and access is limited.   With regular worship at the Church ceasing, the three groups are able to expand – not just physically within the building but also as businesses.

Having spent the last 5 years designing education facilities including those at Rothwell St Mary’s Catholic School and Kirkstall CE Primary Schools amongst many others, we are aware of the spatial needs of young people.  However, it can be a challenge to meet the needs of the educational establishment and those of an old dame of a building.  Experience at Harewood and Meanwood CE Primary Schools (both Grade II listed) demonstrate that the two are not incompatible. In fact, in our experience, the combination of the two can result in some terrific spaces that are dynamic and interesting.

Indeed, the Victorian structure of this Methodist Church does provide a number of challenges like inconveniently placed fireplaces, internal level changes and a site that slopes rather dramatically.  Although not listed, we are still taking a conservation approach to the building, and exploring interventions that affect the original fabric as little as possible.

This first layout took advantage of the dramatic slope by forming a new level ‘bridge’ and bringing together all three groups to create a single secure entrance, with the before/after school club at the rear and the pre-school in the former sanctuary.  The Scouts found a new home in the basement that gives them the space to negotiate their camping equipment to an exit that does not involve taking out a small window (literally).

The feedback was generally very positive but it became clear that the preschool and the before/after school club require separate entrances and staff facilities.  There was some debate as to who ‘owns’ the mezzanine office space.

This revision was coloured up in a way that clearly shows the lines of ‘ownership’ between the three groups.  Each of the concerns have been addressed within the amended plan with separate secure entrances, separate accessible WCs and defined offices.  However, the number of offices required further thought with the before/after school club requested office space on the same level as the rest of the facilities.  Easy access to outdoor play space has also proved to be a challenge.  Each group requires access, but due to the dramatic topography of the site, it is impossible for all three groups to have level and continuous access.  We have tried to address this with the Scouts having access to the rear which is at the same level as the basement, and the other two groups sharing a raised play area to the side of the building.

This iteration has tweaked the scheme to address these comments.  A small office area has been squeezed in behind the mezzanine stair which takes advantage of an existing (and exceedingly narrow door) to form an observation window into the main space. The play area to the side has been split into two.  This was presented to the groups and the response was incredibly favourable.  Just a couple of further tweaks and we are ready to proceed, so do watch this space as to how the scheme progresses.