Step 3 - Develop Your Ideas - Conservation & Listed Buildings


Once the significance of the building is understood, it will be clearer where change can be accommodated within the church and its environs. Depending on the sensitivities held by the place of worship, this will determine what capacity there is for change and indicate the nature of change that will be least harmful. In rare instances it may become apparent that any change would cause significant and irreversible loss to the special architectural and historic interest of the chapel. Therefore, it will be more difficult to undertake works that result in substantial alterations which conflict with the significance and character of the site.

Those schemes that understand what is significant about the building and the contribution made by the site and its surroundings early in the process tend to be more successful in developing sensitive proposals for change. This can save time and costs in putting together an application as well as identifying where professional advice and support may be required.

Once the parameters for the development have been set, detailed design should be undertaken to ensure that the proposals respond to the character of the buildings and its surroundings. This guidance on historic Methodist chapels  contains advice on what to consider when undertaking development in a Place of Worship and gives examples of good practice that demonstrate how change can be accommodated. We strongly recommend that the Assessment Framework, contained within the document, is considered and can act as a checklist when preparing an application.

In Step 2, we encouraged the church to identify significance through the collection of data and the assessment of the Heritage significance and to consider the capacity for change by carrying out a site assessment, including marking up a plan showing areas of greater or lesser sensitivity to particular types of change. You can use the information from Step 2 to inform the design changes in more detail.

Remember that chapels can be prominent or landmark buildings within their surroundings. Consider carefully any external works as their external appearance is often the aspect of the building most recognisable to the public and therefore can be sensitive to change. New additions can provide useful, flexible solutions for different users, and are most successful when they respect the principle elevations and respond in a contextual manner to the architecture of the main chapel. When considering design changes to interiors consider age, quality of design, craftsmanship as well as levels of survival. The interior is often most sensitive to change but is placed under the greatest pressure to accommodate it.

When considering how to accommodate new work in Historic Places of Worship you can consult with this guidance note and for specific items we would refer you to the following:

Organs – Pipe organs are synonymous with our churches and are used in the performance of sacred and secular musical events which encourage the use of our buildings. For guidance on their repair/maintenance, conservation, or replacement you can refer to the guidance by the Church of England, contact the Methodist Church’s Organ Advisory Service, or consult the National Pipe Organ Register

Fixed Seating – this is an important feature within our places of worship and can take several forms which may include benches, pews, box pews and chairs (including flip-up seats). The design of pews and box pews in nonconformist chapels can vary and come in a range of different configurations, detailing and decoration. One point on which they generally conform is that they are laid out to comply with an auditory plan form, the fundamental principle being that every member in the congregation needs to be able to hear and see the preacher. Congregational seating can contribute to the significance of the building through their completeness, relationship to the interior, aesthetic character, historic interest and association, quality of materials and craftsmanship, rarity and age. For schemes involving pew removal there are many things to consider, which are set out in this guidance note on removal of pews

Heating – Providing different users with sufficient comfort is an important challenge as we look to alter our churches. Achieving this whilst reducing our carbon footprint creates a specific technical challenge for our churches. Guidance on the design of church heating systems can be found here: . Similarly, guidance on lighting in churches can be found here:  

Accessibility - Access for everyone to chapels and churches is both desirable and increasingly required by law. There are many ways in which our historic places of worship can be made accessible, and guidance on accessibility can be found here: 

Other guidance notes on making changes to your building can be found here. Do remember that it is important to incorporate outstanding repairs in your proposal. Re-ordering the building without repairing the roof is illogical and therefore you should check that any outstanding repairs from the Quinquennial Inspection are included, as its sensible to do these at the same time.

It is important that the design stage is undertaken with some degree of professional input and advice. We strongly recommend that this is a Conservation Accredited Architect or a Structural Engineer Accredited in Conservation if the issue you are dealing with is structural. You can find details of accredited architects and professionals in your area.  At this point, sketch proposals for the pre-application and/or concept stage would be expected.  The more detailed plans would be developed in Step 6.  

Your architect should be a person who understands your building, and your vision, as well as someone who the church family wish to work with. They should have the right knowledge, technical skill and the innovation and creativity to work with the many challenges our historic buildings pose. They should also understand our internal system of control and know how to get the right permissions to support your worship and mission. More detailed advice can be found here. It’s important to note that many funders require a conservation accredited professional to oversee the works they grant fund.

The architect should ensure a full dialogue with all interested parties, including the Church’s consenting body, and be provided with a full brief.  It is important that they maintain this constant dialogue as the church will need to have some understanding on whether your plans are likely to get permission before detailed drawings and so we would suggest that concept drawings are completed before detailed plans.  Consult with the Connexional Conservation Officer before you move too far forward.

Another alternative to architect led schemes is to explore how community-led design can help empower those who look after historic places of worship to create more open, vibrant and sustainable places that respect and enhance their heritage. Empowering Design Practices is a five-year collaborative research project exploring how to do this and has developed a series of resources to assist heritage churches. Details can be found here

When formulating a draft budget, it worth knowing that Listed Places of Worship benefit from the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme which offers grants that cover the VAT incurred in making repairs to listed buildings in use as places of worship. The scheme covers repair to the fabric of the building, along with associated professional fees, plus repairs to turret clocks, pews, bells and pipe organs.  More information can be found here

Click here to return back to Step 3 - Develop Your Ideas