How to reuse a church? Experts debate solutions

The Dominican Church in Maastricht, the Netherlands, has been converted to a bookstore
The Dominican Church in Maastricht, The Netherlands, is now used as a bookstore. Image: Jorge Franganillo (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

Across Europe, communities face the same question: how to reuse abandoned churches? During an online conference organised by the German Volkswagen Foundation on 15-17 February, experts gave their opinions on the matter.

Churches and heritage organisations across Europe are looking for answers, but every situation seems to call for different measures, reported the Dutch Reformatorisch Dagblad. Maintaining and repurposing buildings is easier said than done, experts noted.

Expensive maintenance

Peter Aiers from the English Church Conservation Trust pointed out that most historical churches need a major restoration every 50 years. ”That’s too expensive for many towns, where most churches have a small supporting community.” Large reparations need to come from national or regional funds instead of the villages themselves. Only then local churches can be maintained, according to Aiers.

Lack of knowledge

Frank Strolenberg, project leader at the Dutch National service for Cultural Heritage, argued that the repurposing of church buildings at a local level is going well. However, on a national level, he sees churches struggling. ”There is a lack of knowledge higher up in the churches’ hierarchy. It would be wise if they opened up for advice from outside on reusing the buildings.”

One of these outside advisors is Mickey Bosschert, owner of Heritage Europe. He focused on a practical approach: ”You need to know who is looking for a building in the first place, and then bring interested parties together.” He also believed church buildings should convert to an ”appropriate” destination: ”I don’t think a supermarket in a church is a good fit.”

There are enough examples of repurposing former churches. You can check a few of them in the video below:

Source: Reformatorisch Dagblad (Dutch) and Volkswagen Stiftung

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