Regeneration of the historic Methodist Church in Malton

18 September 2023

Methodism is a part of Malton’s history; it has been central to the political and social evolution of the town since the mid-18th century.  The first Methodist Church was established in Old Maltongate, and Methodism’s founder John Wesley, preached there during the 1770’s; having outgrown the first Church, a deal was struck with the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, bartering this for a new larger site, and the Saville Street Church opened in 1811.  Almost a perfect cube in form, the ‘new’ 700 seater Church, was designed as an auditory ‘preaching house’ by William Jenkins, and was built by public subscription.  The iconic building is Grade II* listed, and has a number of important historical features, including a distinctive façade, which Historic England place the Church at the ‘upper-end’ of Grade II*, and consider it to be of “national significance.”


Given this inflexibility, and the costs associated with its duty of care to maintain the listed building, the Church Council commenced discussions in the summer of 2015 to reconsider the future for its building; this included a sale attempt (for the third time in its 208-year history), a partial re-purposing, or permanent closure/ mothballing.  Serious structural issues within the roof space were first identified in a quinquennial inspection during September 2015 – and this challenge focused minds.  After further investigations by engineers it was found that two of the huge timber trusses had suffered serious fractures, with ‘jacking’ and the addition of major steelwork necessary to restore the integrity of the roof.  The heavy cornice around the ceiling perimeter also required substantial re-pinning, and reinstatement.  The repair work, which was finally completed at the end of May 2018 at a total cost of £125k, was fully funded.  

After reviewing five different options during late 2015, including sale or permanent closure, the Church Council unanimously decided to explore the most ambitious plan: to use its historic building as a much needed community resource in the heart of Malton. Given the rapid growth of the town, with 50% of all new development in Ryedale destined for Malton and Norton, there was a strong case to explore the creation of a new Community Hub.  With its excellent rail, bus, road, and pedestrian links on the doorstep, the Malton building is accessible, iconic, and town-centric.  There’s a known dearth of community space in Malton for use by the young and old, and by the voluntary and social care sector – where all people are welcome, whoever they are.   With sensitive architectural change, the building is well-suited to its primary use as a Community Hub, also as a Concert Hall of distinction, as well as remaining a place of worship.  By being open all day, and every day, the Wesley Centre Malton will also have a net positive improvement on footfall in the rest of the town, and will further enhance the local economy.  


In 2018, after three years of negotiation, research and careful planning, a suitable scheme was finally decided upon and supported by each of the statutory consultees. Conservation approval was secured for the whole scheme in August 2018 – and the sensitive part-repurposing of such an historic Church building is seen as an innovative example of what can be achieved as an ‘enabler’ for mission – in a rapidly growing community. The then local planning authority, Ryedale District Council, subsequently gave planning consent to the scheme in its entirety, in October 2018. 

The core changes include:

  • A distinctive central glass entrance porch will create a welcoming ‘see-through’ environment from Saville Street, for the first time in more than 150 years; the large central section of an 1866 Victorian screen will be repositioned in the new East Wing
  • Inside, a 1990s glass screen, small kitchen and offices have been removed, and an all-day contemporary community café space, is being created for visitors, plus a Hub Reception and concert Box Office
  • In the main ground floor auditorium, all the remaining box pews have now been removed (bar the retention of two samples) creating a large multi-functional gathering space
  • This large flexible space will be available for community use too, but also commercially for one day conferences, meetings and other public events, for receptions of up to 300 people, for exhibitions and display purposes, festival events, more formal banqueting for up to 150, including weddings, and for special afternoon tea concerts
  • The Wesley Centre will also be partly re-purposed as a fine classical concert venue, for chamber orchestras, choirs and other artists (a season of pilot concerts in the summer of 2019 designed to test the existing facilities, included the soprano Lesley Garrett and the international cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber, both of whom played to capacity audiences)
  • The much-altered pulpit and choir areas have been removed, and a large new double-stepped performance space is being created beneath a new contemporary minstrels gallery, doubling as a reconfigured sanctuary area for worship
  • Its cubic, amphitheatre, auditory form will be ideally suited for the presentation of typically classical concert music
  • The building already has a good acoustic, and this will be enhanced though the extensive use of timbers and glass, with minimal use of carpeting and other soft furnishings 
  • The stairwells and walkways are to be carpeted (including the main stairwells from the ground floor) and comfortable bespoke fitted cushions have been made for each of the pews, which are original to the 1811 building, and considered to be a rare surviving feature
  • The auditorium space is being sympathetically equipped with additional lighting, and facilities to support the application of state-of-the-art sound, audio visual and HD broadcast quality systems
  • Unusually for 21st century Methodism, a large historic 1877 3-manual 31 stop pipe organ by the Hull firm of Forster & Andrews is being reinstated to the Wesley Centre; the organ was originally built for the Gardner Concert Hall of the [then] Royal Normal college for the Blind in south London, and has a highly distinctive provenance through its association with Alfred Hollins    
  • The current 1998/99 single storey building adjoining to the rear of the Wesley centre is to be demolished and the pre-1998 three storey ‘annex’ reinstated on the same footprint plus an additional 20 square metres; an alternative rear entrance will be located on Chapel Lane
  • Five new variable sized meeting rooms containing almost 180 square metres of modern meeting space, flexible enough to accommodate between 6 and 80
  • All service facilities for the Community Hub are to be provided in the new ‘East Wing’, including a large ground floor commercial events kitchen, with numerous cloakrooms on each level, and access provided to each of the three floors via passenger lift
  • New lighting, power and communication systems (including phone and fast-fibre Wi-Fi) throughout
  • A new fully zoned environmentally efficient heating/ cooling system
  • The full refurbishment of the Grade II North Wing (Phase 2, 12 Saville Street) was undertaken in 2018-19, which includes a ground floor retail space, with new staff facilities, plus the creation of five fully refurbished self-contained offices on the first and second floors, which are fully let, including to Malton Town Council which will also use the new facilities for its regular public meetings 
  • Phase 3, the restoration and re-ordering of the large main space commenced in November 2022.


Paul Emberley, Wesley Centre Development Lead, said: Whilst creating a new facility for mission and outreach in an expanding community, we have sought to carefully balance the core objectives of the scheme, whilst ensuring that the entire facility can be financially sustainable for future generations.” He added, “Including our most recent grant award from the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund of £370,000, together with a significant grant from the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, we will have received almost half a million pounds from the UK Government for our scheme, which is testament to its quality and the professional approach adopted by the Wesley Centre project team.”

Under a Memorandum of Understanding, the Wesley Centre in Malton is now operated and managed on a day-to-day basis by a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, and by agreement with the Church Council, and supported by one of TMCP’s panel solicitors it is currently negotiating a 25-year lease on the entire Wesley Centre estate.  

The Methodist Church itself has been generous too in its financial support, and with the Wesley Centre designated as replacement project, this has released historical levy funds from the Connexion, in addition to major funding streams from the District, Circuit and local Church.  To date, the Wesley Centre has been able to raise total investment funding of almost £2 million for the entire scheme, including the development costs for Phases 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Whilst additional funding is still required for the fourth and final Phase (4), it is hoped that this work can commence by the end of 2023, with the reinstatement of the new three-storey East Wing.  The combined works involving both Phases 3 and 4 are pivotal to the success and financial sustainability of the whole project.  More information can also found on the Wesley Centre Malton's website.