The Story of How St Andrew's Became Accessible

20 July 2022

Ten years ago, a long-standing church family, Mr & Mrs B, who attended St Andrew's Methodist Church in Filton, were hit by illness, which meant that Mr B became  a wheelchair user. They continued to struggle to come to church with Mrs B having to handle the wheelchair to bring Mr B. The church is 60 years old and although we had put in a ramp and automatic doors to the main entrance, once inside disability access was difficult with static pews and no suitable toilet facilities (see before picture below).  Coffee was served after the service, but this was in a backroom up some stairs, thus reducing the chance for Mr & Mrs B to socialise.  Mr & Mrs B had given a lifetime of service to the church through Scouts, Guides and the Junior Church and it was very sad to see that they were finding it very difficult to participate in the life of the church.  A plan began to form to refurbish the interior of the church to include a flexible worship space, with ancillary rooms including a basic kitchen, a gathering space and an accessible toilet.

While designing a new stage area to enhance visibility, we decided to also include a ramp suitable for wheelchair access.  Because we did not feel we could fully fund the original plans, we worked with the architect and builders to cut down the plans. We do not feel that in the end we lost anything valuable and perhaps even gained in flexibility.  

st-andrews-before-picFor example: we originally planned to have the choir area floor flattened to make storage for the chairs and tables, when not in use, but the base of the stepped area was concrete and would have cost a great deal to remove. We made a new plan to use one of the newly constructed storerooms as the chair and table store with an opening directly into the church and we transferred the storage of items for Toddler group and Messy Church into the choir area, while leaving the floor stepped. This works reasonably well, with some ingenuity, to store the child-friendly portable items.

Another example: we found once work was started that there was asbestos under the floor in the original defunct heating system. It would have been expensive to remove and dangerous to disturb so the discussion was made to keep the floor intact. This meant that the new heating and wiring all needed to be kept above floor level, so a redesign was necessary. In the end, all the rewiring was done through the ceiling using cherry pickers and scaffolding platforms. The flooring, which was parquet made from Wenge (a very hard African wood), was stripped down using some heavy-duty sanders and is now a major asset to the church.


Now, we have a fully accessible church which is usable for many different activities all through the week.  There is an accessible toilet and a ramp on to the stage to enable full participation of people with disabilities. We also have a small kitchen for tea, coffee and cold snacks with a coffee bar area attached. The new storerooms enable us to keep the main areas free of clutter to allow flexibility of use. We have large gathering area as you enter the main part of the building.  This is proving to be a great space for interaction between people and is being used regularly for our church business meetings and one of our bible study groups.  The facilities are suitable for toddlers with buggies as well as elderly people with walking frames or wheelchairs. The building has been given a new lease of life and has been highly complemented by our community.


The congregation is enjoying worship in the new space with the new audio and visual equipment being used to enhance worship. It has much potential that we need to learn about gradually.  We can use the coffee bar area to teach the children separately for part of the service and that is working well with the dividing wall and doors providing very good sound insulation between the two areas.  We can be flexible with the layout of the church during services but that does mean spending time moving chairs.  Our Messy Church has been meeting monthly and has attracted good numbers of families. The new AV/PA provision has greatly improved the session and will be a greater asset as we learn how to use it more fully. 

The refurbished building makes a statement to the community concerning the life of the church; previously the church was uninviting and tired, the refurbishment into an inviting, flexible bright space shows (tacitly) that the church is alive.  We have several new groups hiring our premises and interaction with them is building and our toddler group is gradually building back up.  This will have an impact upon part of the mission of the church as we develop relationships with those who use the premises.

The feedback has been excellent, the main church area is bright and uncluttered, and the ancillary rooms are working well. The congregation is enjoying the opportunity of chatting over a cuppa in the centre of the building rather than having to move to a separate room. We have messages from some of the users saying how much they appreciate the refurbished building. One of the groups, Bristol Male Voice Choir, took part in a very moving Maundy Thursday communion service with us. They said that they are particularly pleased with the acoustics in the church. They have found that the ramp onto the stage is an excellent way to move the electric piano ready for their practices. The older members of our congregation also find the ramp very helpful in accessing the stage. Several groups have held successful ‘Fairs’ in the premises which can be made to look festive easily, they have found having the kitchen on the edge of the gathering area works well when providing refreshments. This has allowed fund raising for community causes, such as Chest & Heart and Dementia charities.


A local choir and a local wind band have each offered to perform concerts for us in the autumn. The Bristol Film & Video Society made 10-minute video about our church and the refurbishment project.  They have been to film at many of the activities happening in the church, including morning worship, line dancing, toddler group and Messy Church.
Click here to view the video.  

In terms of funding, we received the following on top of over £25,000 that we raised ourselves with coffee mornings, quizzes, sales of unwanted items, gift days etc.  We had a great number of things to get rid of from the part of the building that we sold and in order to empty the church. This took a concerted effort from many people over the whole period, and we still have more to do.  We also benefitted claiming no VAT on the installation of the accessibility modifications.   

  • Part sale of property - £75,000
  • District Grant - £20,000
  • Circuit Grant - £50,000
  • Methodist Insurance - £25,000
  • Gibb's Trust Grant - £500
  • Sunday School Grant - £500
  • Connexional Grant- £50,0000
  • Garfield Weston - £20,000
  • Bernard Sunley Trust - £10,000
  • All Churches Trust - £3,850
  • Congregational & General - £20,000
  • Gloucester Churches Trust - £4,000
  • Enovert - £25,000

Click here to view the church's website.