Essex villagers to unveil plans for transforming church into community hub

Langley residents are unveiling plans at the end of the month to turn their church into a community

Langley residents are unveiling plans at the end of the month to turn their church into a community centre. (L-R) Tracy Mitchell, Doug Copeland, Alex Riordan, and Ben Dennett. - Credit: Archant

Residents of an Essex village will unveil plans at the end of the month to transform their 1,000-year-old church into a multi-use community centre.

St John the Evangelist, in Langley, which stands as one of the highest churches in Essex, has already hosted displays and pop-up cinema events but now villagers want to ensure the long-term future of the building with a new design.

Plans for the new centre will be launched at an exhibition at the church on Saturday, January 30 from 11am to 4pm, with further chances to see the designs on Wednesday, February 3, 3pm-6pm and Saturday, February 6, 11am-4pm.

A report last year by the Church of England highlighted that more than a quarter of its 16,000 churches have fewer than 20 worshippers and the Parochial Church Council (PCC) says the building is not likely to be sustainable in the future.

Paddy Riordan, PCC member and fundraiser, said: “Transforming our church to create a modern community centre is a really innovative way to ensure the future of a building that’s stood in Langley for centuries.

“It will not only mean the church is retained for worship, but provide a wonderful new village hub.”

Mr Riordan, who has lived in the village since 1992, raised more than £9,000 for the project with a 775km walk across Spain last year, and village fundraising has been boosted by a grant of £17,600 for church repairs.

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The total cost of renovation for the centre is expected to be in the region of £250,000, and the fundraising team have already received advice on various grant opportunities for the project.

Mr Riordan said: “We’re very grateful to all who’ve helped us get the project to this stage.

“As well as the community centre, we’re also supporting plans for a new sports pavilion which will mean youngsters can enjoy our much loved village green. It’s a real community project.”

The Norman church has seen many events over the past year, including a pop-up cinema showing in conjunction with Saffron Screen, which attracted nearly 200 visitors to the building.

Tracy Mitchell, secretary of the PCC, said: “This new facility could not only be a fantastic venue for concerts, displays and all kinds of events, it could also be the centre for a range of village groups from mothers and toddlers, to a youth club and a drop in centre for residents.”

Residents in Langley are keen to emulate neighbouring Wicken Bonhunt, whose church now doubles as a village hall to accommodate community groups, concerts and events following a similar church ‘Re-ordering’ project.

Around the country, many heritage buildings are now being used as multi-use facilities such as village shops, food banks, sub post offices and even WiFi cafes.

Mrs Mitchell said “We want to safeguard our village heritage for generations to come, as well as breathe new life into the building. We are hopeful that around 200 people will come to the exhibitions to view the plans and discuss the project further.”

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