Making Buildings Accessible
The Methodist church is committed to being inclusive. Making sure that disabled people can use our buildings is a fundamental part of this.
In addition to our calling to be a growing, evangelistic, inclusive church of diverse people, we have legal responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to make our buildings accessible for disabled people
The act defines a disabled person as a person with a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. There are a range of impairments covered by the Equality Act including:
- Visual impairment and blindness
- Hearing impairment and deafness
- Physical disabilities, such as congenital conditions, long-term injuries caused by accidents, or progressive neuromuscular diseases
- Respiratory conditions
- Neurological conditions and brain injuries
- Speech and language disabilities
- Learning disabilities or difficulties
- Mental health issues
- Chronic illnesses
Building Accessibility Pathway
The guidance below is supplementary for property projects that are working toward making buildings accessible. Please refer to the core guidance in the Property Development Pathways in tandem with this specific guidance for building accessibility projects.
Within the Property Development Pathways, there is a Core Pathway, which has a common set of steps, guidance and considerations to follow within every project. However, there are special considerations when preparing and implementing accessibility measures that are laid out in the Building Accessibility Pathway.
The Pathways are designed to be worked through methodically and so it is recommended to begin with Step 1 of the Core Pathway followed by Step 1 of the Building Accessibility Pathway. The first three steps involve background work, but allowing time for research, preparation and planning will help to ensure a project's success. Click here to view a summary of the eight core steps: Property Development Pathways.
The key documents include:
- Step 1: Create a mission plan
Review information on Step 1 of the Property Development Pathways.
As part of your mission planning, look at how you can make your building more accessible.
Where are you on the journey?
Each church is at a different stage of this journey. Each building will also present different challenges to becoming more accessible, including financial resources, layout and whether the building is listed.
It is important to remember that there is information and guidance designed for churches available to help you, and even relatively small changes can make a huge difference to how disabled people can access your church building.
Your church may already be wheelchair accessible but you should look at all types of disability and consider how you can make the church more inclusive to people who are affected by other accessibility issues.
Making your church more accessible will open up opportunities for your building to be used, not just by disabled people but by families who use prams/push chairs and older people.
As well as thinking about the needs of people you see in church every week, notice who is not present.
Some disabled people, especially older people, will self-exclude rather than request adaptations. Making your church more accessible may be an opportunity to welcome back church members who have stopped attending due to disability.
- Understand the issues.
- Listen and reach out to disabled people, including church members and in the wider community. This work should not be just about people who currently use your building, but those in your local community who might if it was more accessible.
- Be inspired.
These are some suggested books to read to start on or continue your church’s journey to becoming more inclusive:
- Worship and Disability a Kingdom for All, Katie Tupling and Anna de Lange (Grove Books, 2018)
- Enabling Church, Gordon Temple (SPCK, 2012)
- At the Gates, Naomi Lawson Jacobs and Emily Richardson (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2022)
- My Body is not a Prayer Request, Amy Kenny (Brazos Press, 2022)
- Disability and the Church, Lamar Hardwick (Inter-Varsity Press, 2021)
- Does This Cross Have Disabled Access? Rethinking Theologies of Atonement and Disability, David MacLachlan (Whitley Publications, 2020)
- The Disabled God, Nancy L. Eisland (Abingdon Press, 1994)
- Disability in Mission, David C Deuel and Nathan G John (Hendrickson, 2019)
- The Bible Disability and the Church, Amos Yong, (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011)
- The Bible and Disability: a commentary, edited by Sarah Melcher et al, (Baylor University Press, 2017)
- Step 2: Do your research
Review the information on Step 2 of the Property Development Pathways.
Work through these steps to help find the best solution for your building because not every adaption is suitable in every building.
1. Complete an Access Audit
The Methodist Church Access Audit has been designed to be completed by a person with knowledge of the building and the activities it is used for. They should know, or be able to enquire about, the access needs of people who use or want to use the building.
The Access Audit should be done by or with a disabled person. If this is not possible, some form of consultation with disabled people is important, and this may be a way of making links across your circuit, your district and within your communities.
In addition to mobility, the Audit should cover all types of accessibility issues, including visual, auditory and other sensory issues.
The centre for accessible environments has produced an Access Audit Handbook which is an excellent source of information and advice on how to complete the Audit
You can also instruct a suitably qualified consultant or surveyor to complete an Access Audit.
2. Research possible solutions
If the Methodist Church Access Audit highlights barriers to access by disabled people, think about what measures could be put in place to tackle these barriers.
There are a range of helpful resources on the measures your church can consider to make your building more accessible:
- Equality act making buildings fully accessible - Church Growth
- Enabling churches where disabled people belong - Churches for All
- Equal Access to Church Buildings - Church of England
- Church Inclusion - Through the Roof
- Count Everyone In
- Sight Loss Friendly Church - Torch Trust
- Accessible Churches – Additional Needs Alliance
- Sign - Design Society
- Support for businesses and organisations - RNID
- The Access Guide - Disability Scotland
3. Review what others have done
4. Collaborate with disabled people
Consulting with disabled people on how you make your building more accessible is important.
Disabled people are experts by experience, and involving them in your Access Audit process will give you greater insight into any positive features of your building, as well as any adaptations that may be required.
Being invited to participate in the process, and in any building projects which follow, may also be empowering for disabled people in the church and local community.
5. Research what is possible if your building is listed
Adapting listed buildings is possible and to be encouraged with appropriate advice.
Historic places of worship should not be thought of as inaccessible places; indeed good quality access can enhance our understanding of the historic environment and ensure its sustainability.
The removal of physical barriers and providing the broadest possible public access is achievable, even in our most sensitive historic places of worship, but change should be sympathetic and based on a full understanding of the building’s significance.
The need to conserve the special characteristics of historic buildings is recognised in the Approved Documents, but provided the work does not compromise the character of the building or increase the risk of long-term deterioration of the building fabric or fittings then it will be welcomed.
Improvements to interpretation and services in our historic buildings can also increase people’s ability to engage with our cultural heritage, compensating – at least in part – for any unavoidable limitations to physical access.
For further information speak to the Connexional Conservation Officer firstname.lastname@example.org or you can find more information here:
- Improving access to historic places of worship
- Road map to improving accessibility
- Access to Places of Worship - Historic England
- Easy Access to Historic Buildings - Historic England
- Managing easy access to listed buildings in Wales - Welsh Government
- Managing Change in the Historic Environment: Accessibility - Historic Environment Scotland
The church will require consent before changes are made to the building.
6. Complete an Accessibility Action Plan
- The outcome of The Methodist Church Access Audit should be an Accessibility Action Plan that lists what the church can do to make the building more accessible. This can range from smaller adaptations like handrails, improved signage and making space for wheelchairs to larger adaptations like ramps and lifts.
- Have some joined up and holistic thinking regarding the building. For example, if the church is going to replace doors, lighting or flooring, the Audit should be referred to in order to make sure replacements improve accessibility.
- Include accessibility adaptations in a phased plan of maintenance and works that is appropriate for the building. Not everything has to be done right away but there should be a clear plan for how the church will be working to make the building more accessible.
- Consider how you are going to monitor and review the Audit and Action Plan every five years, at a minimum. Accessibility measures should be included in a building’s quinquennial inspection.
7. Write an access statement
You should use the Access Audit to complete an access statement. This details to members and visitors how accessible your building is. The statement should be made available to:
- all visitors to the building
- all Ministers, preachers and speakers who are invited to your church
- all groups who book rooms in your buildings.
The statement should also be uploaded to the church’s and/or circuit’s website.
- Step 3: Develop your ideas
Review the information on Step 3 of the Property Development Pathways.
In addition to the research you should have done in Step 2 of the core pathway, it is important that you consider what you need to do to fulfil the church’s legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.
- how practical the changes are
- if the change you are considering would overcome the barrier disabled people have accessing your building
- the size of the church
- the money and resources that are available
- the cost of making the changes
- the significance of your building (if listed).
The church may wish to instruct a surveyor to draw up plans and provide an estimate for works. They will also be able to advise the church on planning permission and building regulations.
- Step 4: Review and Decide
Review the information on Step 4 of the Property Development Pathways.
You should now have a strong foundation on which to make decisions about the project through information, including the following:
- Professional designs for major adaptions like ramps and lifts, with estimates of cost obtained.
- Guidance from the Connexional Conservation Officer, if the building is listed.
- A fundraising plan, with people identified who will complete grant applications and/or to organise other fund raising activities, if the adaptations are going to involve additional fundraising by the church.
Grant giving organisations you can apply to include:
- National Churches Trust
- Benefact Trust
- Places of worship - The National Lottery Heritage Fund
- Listed Places of Worship (LPW) Grant Scheme
- The Joseph Rank Trust
- Garfield Weston Foundation
- Through the Roof
Disabled adaptations may be exempt from VAT. Churches should speak to their professional advisor and building contractor about this. Further information can be found on VAT for builders: Work for disabled people (www.gov.uk).
Disabled people should have been involved in putting together the Accessibility Action Plan so the church knows it is prioritising the right measures.
After the reviewing the Accessibility Action Plan and the information above, the church should make a decision on works it is going to progress and when.
Actions can be categorised in the following priorities:
- A – Urgent, requiring immediate attention
- B – Requires attention within 12 months
- C – Requires attention within the next 18-24 months
- D – Requires attention within the quinquennial period
- Step 5: Plan your project
Review the information on Step 5 of the Property Development Pathways.
As part of your Accessibility Action Plan, you should have a dedicated person to oversee its implementation. This may be the property steward if accessibility works are going to form part of an ongoing maintenance plan.
If works to make the your church more accessible are going to involve a major project or are going to be part of a bigger church renovation or new build scheme, it is important that the steps in the core Property Development Pathway are followed – a detailed project plan and budget are in place and you have gained the required approvals.
At the outset of a major project, you should plan how disabled people are going to be involved in the project as stakeholders. This could be from checking drawings or feeding back on fixtures proposed by the builder.
- Step 6: Prepare to Build
Review the information on Step 6 of the Property Development Pathways.
Works which involve substantial changes like ramps, lifts or layout changes must have all the required consents from the trustees/circuit/district and be recorded on the consent system. The church should also appoint a surveyor to tender out and oversee these works.
If the building is listed, consent from the Connexional Conservation Officer must be obtained.
Changes must also have received planning permission where applicable.
It is worth double-checking at this stage that the planned work will address the barrier to accessibility the church is seeking to overcome. Sometimes things can get lost in the design process and so someone with lived experience of disability should be involved in a final design check.
- Step 7: Begin the build
Review the information on Step 7 of the Property Development Pathways.
The agent and the contractor should be reminded that any changes to the design or products used which may have an impact on accessibility must be brought to the church’s attention.
In a major project, discuss how disabled people who are members of project team will access the site for visits and meetings.
- Step 8: Complete, handover and celebrate
Review the information on Step 8 of the Property Development Pathways.
The works completed by the contractor should be checked. A disabled person should be invited to be part of this process, if possible.
The church’s access statement and website should be updated so people know the church is now more accessible.
Major adaptions to the building can be communicated to the community via social media and local press as well as to the Property Support team.