The Ruach Development Project - What's it all about?

14 July 2023

Ruach - what's it all about?

Ruach is our term for describing our response to the changing demands placed on Poppleton Methodists in the 21st century.  The word Ruach is an ancient Hebrew one that when applied to god indicates creative activity and active power.  For us, it means our vision of how we respond to the changing needs of the world.  We can't hide from change; we have to recognise its impact with regards to church and community.  

Over 10 years ago, our minister instigated a reflection by the membership of how we saw ourselves within our community in Yorkshire. We asked ourselves these questions:  Were we just carrying on year after year doing the same thing without thinking?' and 'Are there new things we should do to improve our community engagement?' 

A committee was established to lead the review and a comprehensive questionnaire was created and competed by the membership and users of our buildings.  This study covered two area our buildings and our mission.  We quickly identified that the buildings were tired and in need of upgrade even for fulfilling current activities. The mission review identified that we were too insular and should engage the community to a much greater extent.  This lead to an understanding that our buildings were an impediment and needed to be upgraded and reordered.


The Ruach Property Development Steering Group was formed by the Church Council in October 2012 charged with conducting a review of the Church’s premises to test whether, in the Group’s opinion, they were fit for purpose for the foreseeable future and then to present such findings to Church Council together with any proposed outline redevelopment plans.  

Over several years of work including reference visits to other churches, the committee produced a set of requirements which were agreed with Church Council and an architect appointed to produce outline designs and costings.  This work was useful in clarifying requirements but hampered by the need to redevelop withing the existing footprint of the building.  Fortunately, the church manse which was adjacent and had a very large garden and Circuit decided to gift this land to Poppleton church.  This meant that the redevelopment could take place in the existing garden with the gifted land being used for a new garden. 

We decided to start the design process from scratch and in late 2015 conducted a tender process for architects.  Working with the new architect designs were produced and reviewed and refined in an iterative process until agreement was reached and approved by Church Council in 2016.  The project was split into three phases – phase 1 a new hall in the old garden with recessed stage along with a meeting room, tearoom toilets, store, and plant room.  Phase 2 revamp the chapel and phase 3 convert the old hall into a café with new kitchen and stores and a new passageway created to provide access from the front to the rear.  We applied for and received planning approval from York Council.  Our church is not listed though the Poppleton Green which the church faces is a Conservation Area.  This affected the changes we could make to the frontage though the restrictions were not onerous.


We officially launched the project in the community with an open day with the plans on display.  We formed a fundraising group and a grant application team and set to work to raise the money. 

We attended a couple of courses to learn about raising funds to support church building projects. They were very informative about the realities of fund-raising and explained the benefits of applying to be a charity in our own right.  We completed the application process with the Charity Commission and were registered quite quickly.  We also understood the importance of having an on-line presence with a web site and Facebook etc.  We already had a web site for the church so created an additional section devoted to the building project.  This contains a wealth of information about the project updated as things develop and a means for people to make online donations should they wish. 

We focussed on four area to raise the money. These were:
- Gifts from the congregation
-  Legacies
-  Fundraising events
-  Grants

We set a target of raising 10% of the funds through our own fund-raising events and Gifts.  Legacies are not controllable and were seen as a bonus if they could be secured.    Fund-raising events are an excellent way to raise money as the events serve to publicise the project amongst the wide community and to mobilise the church community in support.  It was felt the bulk of the money would have to come from grants.  We understood from our training that the most important thing about grant applications is to ensure that our project met the criteria of the grant awarding body before writing an application.   That meant doing a lot of work on the internet checking carefully the criteria of each grant awarding body and building a list of possible candidates.  Also, it's important to read carefully the instructions for completing the grant application and following them precisely.  Our experience of the grant applications process is that these are golden rules. 

poppleton-interior-from-back-wall We considered hiring someone to do the grant applications on our behalf but we decided that having lived and breathed the project for several years and with a deep understanding of the importance of the project with regard to out community outreach we had to do the job ourselves. 

The first grants we applied for were from Circuit, District and Connexion.   We did this deliberately as we felt that if we could not get buy-in from the Methodist Church we were unlikely to do so from other charities.  They were all supportive, but Connexion advised that rather than have one large project split into three delivery phases, we should have three separate projects.  That way each project could be delivered as soon as funds were raised.  The estimated cost of phase 1 (new hall) was £500,000 plus VAT.  That was the build cost, over the years we had already spent over £100,000 on technical surveys, planning approval, architects and other professional fees which are applicable to all three phases.

We kicked off the official start of the fundraising with a special church service as part of a gift weekend.   Between January 2019 and July 2020, we were awarded grants from a total of 12 organisations totalling £244,250.  Local fundraising raised over £114,000 and legacies raised £242,000. 

Having raised the necessary funds, we conducted a tender process through our architects, selected a preferred bidder and entered contract negations.  Covid intervened and things slowed down.  Work started on site on 19th April 2021 and the church took possession of the new building in January 2022.  Earlier in the process we applied to Inland Revenue to have the project recognised as a “Village Hall” and thus be VAT exempt.  We were refused, however we modified the design to ensure the new hall was completely independent from the rest of the premises and then appealed the VAT decision.  We won the appeal and saved about £100,000 in tax on the project.

Post completion, there were the usual snags to resolve.  The garden was left largely unmade at our request.  A team of church volunteers put down paths and built a boundary wall, created a lawn and planting beds.  This saved us money and helped create a collective ownership of the space.  We found the acoustics of the hall rather poor and solved that by having acoustic panels installed. 


There are immediate benefits to the church and community.  We have an extra facility to rent out to the community.  A new group has taken advantage of that – Dementia Forward who now meet weekly.  We can now also plan additional church events to take advantage of the new hall.  For instance, we had a Christmas Tree festival for the first time.  The Under 5’s Playgroup a major user of our premises in term time has moved into the new hall where they also benefit from the new larger garden.  The area is self-contained and secure which means we can now have other users in the rest of the building at the same time.  An immediate benefit of that is that our community café has extended its opening hours to include Mondays as well as Tuesdays.  This is well attended by members of the local community particularly elderly people living alone as it gives them an opportunity to enjoy the company of others while having delicious homemade scones and cakes. A drop in youth club has started to meet in the old hall on Friday evenings.  It is unstructured the young people just needing to have a safe place to meet and hang out together.

The new hall has underfloor heating powered by an air source heat pump and the roof has solar panels.  This makes the new part of our premises much cheaper to heat than the old part (old hall and chapel) which has electrical radiator heating. The energy price hike has masked the benefits but over the winter of 2022/23 we held church services in the new hall rather than the chapel saving an estimated £50 per Sunday in electricity costs. Based on our experience of phase 1 when we move on to phases two and three we plan to replace the electric radiators with underfloor heating powered by air source heat pumps.

Also more information is available through the Poppleton Methodist Church website via the Ruach Development Project tab.