Revitalizing community spirit: The transformation of Amberley’s church into a community hub

Amberley's historic church has been transformed into a vibrant community hub, featuring a volunteer-run shop and café, alongside the worship life of the church. Amberley Shop on the Common, established as a community benefit society, is an innovative project driven by sustainable practices and strong community support. The project provides a case study showing the changing role of churches in modern society. As a bustling gathering spot, it symbolizes community resilience and collective effort, setting a precedent for repurposing traditional spaces to meet contemporary needs and strengthen community bonds.

Amberley Church. Photo © Neil Truphet

In the quaint village of Amberley, in the County of Gloucestershire, South West England, a remarkable transformation has taken place, breathing new life into the community and redefining the role of a church in modern society. Seven years after the closure of the village’s shop, local residents and parishioners, encouraged by church officials embarked on an innovative project to convert the west end of their grade II listed church into a vibrant shop and café.

This initiative not only restored a much-needed local amenity but also reinforced the church’s position as a central community hub. The project obtained the blessing of the Anglican Diocese of Gloucester, as well as the local Methodist community, who use the church as their worship space. The Gloucester Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), which advises Church of England worshiping communities on projects involving conservation, repair, and development of church buildings, supported the project along the way.

A Visionary Project

The idea to utilize the church for community purposes was inspired by the realization of a pressing need for local amenities following the closure of Amberley’s existing shop. The concept aligned perfectly with the Church of England’s policies, prompting the community to develop plans for a shop and café within the church premises.

The project, managed by a highly capable project manager, emphasized cost-efficiency and community involvement. By acting as the contractor, the church managed to save approximately 20% of the build cost, showcasing the project’s innovative and self-sufficient approach.

The Amberley Project is a stellar example of a creative use of a rural church building, which made it a much more sustainable and cherished community asset, without compromising its primary worship use.

Adam Klups, The Care of Churches Team Leader at the Diocese and 2023 European Heritage Youth Ambassador

Community Embrace and Sustainability

Initial scepticism about the commercial aspect of the project was quickly dispelled as residents recognized its not-for-profit, community-focused intentions. The conversion included the installation of accessible facilities and the crafting of furniture from the church’s original pews, marrying historical preservation with modern necessities. Emphasizing sustainability, the project incorporated air source heat pumps, contributing to the church’s journey towards net-zero emissions, which the Church of England pledged to achieve by 2030.

To this end plans are being developed to further reduce the building’s carbon footprint with the adoption of renewable energy technology.  The meticulous planning extended to minimizing construction impact on the church’s operations, ensuring that its sacred space was respected throughout the renovation.

“One of our challenges has been to keep this active church functioning throughout the build”.

Neil Truphet, project manager and former chairman of Amberley Shop on the Common

Funding and Community Support

The financial strategy for the project was twofold: raising funds for the shop and enhancing access and facilities within the church. The community’s effort was remarkable, with over £165,000 raised for the project through donations, grants, and share purchases in the community benefit society. Local fundraising events added to the project’s vibrancy, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. The church’s enhancements, funded separately, aimed at improving accessibility, further embedding the church as an inclusive community pillar.

A New Chapter for Amberley

Today, Amberley church stands as a testament to what communities can achieve when they come together for a common cause. The shop and café have become places of gathering, where residents and visitors alike can enjoy a moment of peace and connection. The project has not only provided practical benefits but has also strengthened the community’s bond, with volunteers expressing overwhelming satisfaction and a sense of belonging. The success of Amberley church reordering serves as an inspiring model for other communities, demonstrating the potential to introduce new extended uses into historic buildings in ways that honour their heritage while meeting contemporary needs.

In Amberley, the church now buzzes with daily activity, serving as a beacon of community spirit and innovation. Its transformation to a local social hub highlights the evolving role of churches in modern society, proving that with vision, collaboration, and respect for history, communities can create spaces that truly bless and serve their members.

The project owes very much to the support from the late Reverend John Spiers. It has been a privilege to work with him and with the rest of the committed, capable, and tenacious team of volunteers drawn from every section of the community.” Neil Truphet

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