Worship, Community, Heritage & Future
Our Futures Strategy
St Mary’s Church, Bitton
STRATEGY & DEVELOPMENT PLAN
The Parochial Church Council (PCC) has undertaken a substantial review of the needs of the church in coming years. A modernisation programme called Living Stones was launched in 2008 and raised sufficient funds to enable several small improvements and deal with some difficult and long-standing maintenance issues. Since then, a committee of the PCC, The Future Group has been examining different approaches to development taken by other churches and consulted widely within the church congregation and the community.
- From this has come a Development Vision set out at the front of this document that sets out our hopes and ambitions for the building and its grounds:
- As a place where people are welcomed and received well, so that the church is seen and is used by the community to a much greater extent for many different activities.
- To be able to offer greater experimentation in services and forms of worship.
- To provide better information about the church, its history and its role.
- To develop the church building so that the range of activities and events can be extended and assures the maintenance of the building into the 21st century and beyond.
Plans have been developed along four strands, each of which is intended to develop interest and activity. These four strands are as follows:
2: What we need
Discussion and consultation has taken place. This identified what seemed to be the most significant areas of need and change if the church was to be given a viable future:
We need greater flexibility in the use of the space the church provides so that it can provide more options in respect of worship and enable it to be used for multiple and different purposes for the community.
In particular, we need more flexible seating arrangements that are not fixed but adaptable to different situations and requirements. We are constrained in our use of the building by the current layout of the pews.
We are also constrained in the type of services we can offer and by having a more flexible space and moveable seating we will be able to experiment with new expressions of worship.
We need to make the church more welcoming and hospitable to those coming to the church and to provide for the needs of a growing community, including organisations that have outgrown the church hall. We need to do this so that the church will be used by more local groups, increasing our engagement with the community and providing a wider income stream. To be attractive as a centre for the local community we need to make the church more comfortable and better resourced for worshippers
- To make the church feel more inviting, the stone walls (covered in years of soot and dirt) and the windows need to be cleaned, to reveal their original colour.
- We need to improve access to the church by people with disability including wheelchair users to allow them to play a full part in services and other events.
- We need to tidy up the nave and the chapel, so that they are less cluttered. We need more storage, and we also need our utilities (heaters, wiring etc) to be as far as possible out of sight. We need resources such as welcome desks and serveries that look pleasant and inviting to use.
- We need a floor that is not a combination of different materials and levels but that looks pleasant and is of a single scheme.
- In the longer term we need a small kitchen and more toilets.
- We need better parking.
If people feel that they are entering a place that looks like it is well resourced, comfortable and attractive, not only will they come in, they may stay and engage with the activities of the church.
We need to make sure that the treasures of this ancient church, its architecture and history are properly maintained and, where necessary, restored to bring out their full significance.
We need to make them accessible and displayed to the public. In doing so we need to obtain an appropriate balance between the preservation of the past with the needs of today’s and future generations.
We need to make the church more environmentally sustainable both in the short and longer term. While the works we are proposing may not improve sustainability immediately, we need to design them with a view to technologies that will reduce the church’s environmental impact over time and allow the incorporation of less impactful technologies in the future.
- We need an improved means for lighting the church. Our current lighting system is not as energy efficient as it could be and does not allow much variation. To gain the best outcome our lighting arrangements need to be reorganised not only to meet our existing needs in ways that use modern lighting systems effectively, but that also enable us to provide good lighting for new church and community events. We need a lighting system that reacts to casual visitors as well as organised events.
- We need to bring together our audio and visual systems into a single managed system. We need a permanently fixed projector linked to our audio and a system that can provide support to acts of worship and community events such as drama or music.
- We need better facilities to presenters that enable then to make best use of our facilities.
- We need a heating system that is more effective and, in time, more efficient.
- We need to look to the future and the needs of the environment, both in the immediate and longer term
3. A Futures Strategy
The lengthy period of discussion and consultation on St Mary’s future, identified not only what was needed, but the things that needed to be done if such things were to be delivered. From the outset it was clear that what was wanted was for the church to continue as a place of worship, but also meet the wider needs of the community too.
This has been a long process and has fostered much debate. Our first meeting was held in September 2012, to which the whole village was invited to give its views.
That the church should be used more expansively has gained significant support and it has been well recognised that without change and development St Mary’s may cease to be viable as a working building. Access and flexibility in the use of the building were seen as the biggest hurdles to development; but so too were the lack of modern facilities including more toilets and parking. Many also flet that we were failing to build effectively on our heritage.
The PCC held a number of meetings deliberating on the way forward and Futures Committee was established to develop the approach still further culminating in the first version of a strategy for change resting on four areas for development. While each was likely to require some material change in the building, equal emphasis was placed on identifying what could be done immediately.
Our four point strategy has remained as the basis for planning and making changes, and is detailed on the following pages. In each progress has been made, but fully to realise the ambition of each requires more substantial change.
The Futures Committee commissioned a number of expert reports into significant pieces of church fixtures, fittings and artefacts. Reports were received on the state of the windows, organ, font and more recently on the state of a number of ledger stones in the church floor.
In 2017, the opportunity arose to undertake some experimentation with the removal of the choirstalls and the five rear rows of pews creating more open space under a temporary Archdeacon’s licence. This has done much to reassure many who had been opposed to some aspects of change, particularly the removal of pews.
Consultation continues, and as plans began to emerge in relation to changes identified to the floor, contacts were made with various national bodies to seek their advice and views. More engagement took place with local residents including a further village open evening in 2019. The pandemic of 2020 and 2021, forestalled further consultation for the time being.
Our focus is outward with a greater mission to our community and a recognition that we may have to adapt and change our approach to meet the needs of new generations. While we still need to provide for those who want a more traditional approach, our intention is to introduce different services and embrace experimentation.
Within a wider community we also seek to support our charities in the work they perform, particularly, the CMS (the Church Missionary Society) through which we directly sponsor work in the third world.
Our ambition is to make St Mary’s an inspiring place for worship and pilgrimage, attracting new people and being open to change. A church that reaches out to its own community with Christ’s message, and to the wider world through our selected charities.
- One Sunday each month our main service is hosted by the Scouts, Cubs or Brownies with a service tuned to a younger generation. We have provided a leavers service for children at the end of their primary school years at the Meadows School as well as a Carol service.
- A Family Café Church operates on the fourth Sunday, providing a light breakfast, coffee and crafts for young children and making use of the new space created at the rear of the church.
- We refreshed our services with the occasional use of alternative liturgies and invested in a new hymnbook.
- Within the Benefice, an Alpha Group was run each year (pre-pandemic).
- Online services have been developed enabling those who cannot attend church to feel part of the service during the pandemic.
We are however constrained from going further by the current layout of the church which precludes other arrangements for church services. Most particularly the remaining pews which need to be moved or made mobile on a level floor.
In particular, while our mission to families and young children has expanded, we feel constrained by the current order of the church to expand our attraction to n older age group for older age groups under the age of 30.
Although visitors may receive a warm personal welcome to the church, the building does not feel welcoming. A dark and dingy interior with dirty walls, a lack of facilities and uncomfortable seating make coming to the church something of an endurance. We want everyone to feel welcome to come into the church and become connected; whether it is to a service or for any other event.
By widening the use of the church and opening it up to the community provides not only an additional income stream, but also increases contact between the church and people who would otherwise avoid it. This can only happen if people are attracted by a place that is cleaner, brighter and offers what more modern venues offer.
Our ambition is to provide a church that can be more attractive and accessible by all. We want the church building to be used in a greater variety of ways as a thriving hub for the community and a place where people feel comfortable, regardless of their current religious beliefs or affiliations.
- The church is now open every day during the summer months with a warm invitation for people to visit, look around or simply find a quiet moment.
- ¨ We have made greater use of the kitchenette at the rear of the church to provide light refreshments.
- We have provided a welcome pack for new residents and have contacted all of the new residents to the village who have moved into Bitton Mill (a new housing development of 114 homes) over the past three years.
- Wi-Fi has been installed and our sound system has been improved enabling us to encourage local groups to make use of the church.
- We are currently working to modernise our website and establish a presence on social media.
We have gone so far, but to do more to improve hospitality we need to make more significant material changes that make the church: cleaner and brighter; with better lighting; improved accessibility; and better functioning utilities.
We want the church to be a place that is first on the list when it comes to decisions on where to hold events. That means a significant improvement in our facilities. We can make some improvements quicky as a part of initial re-ordering, but in the longer term we need to build additional facilities to include a kitchen suitable for food preparation, more lavatories and storage for equipment.
St Mary’s has a rich history that is as much the story of Bitton village, as it is of Christianity in England. From the Norman conquest to the Second World War there have been few events that have not left their mark and the church has a wealth of historical connections to develop and attract visitors.
Improving the quality of the visit and providing information about the rich history of the church and its parish is intended to encourage more visitors and place the church on the tourist map.
With such an ancient building comes responsibility for its stewardship and maintenance. While we want to use the church in new ways, we also recognise the need to preserve and celebrate its past.
Our ambition is to provide a great experience in which the visitor can understand the rich history of the church building, preserving its heritage but recognising too the changes that have taken place in the past in to meet the needs of the community and changes in religious practice and belief. We want visitors to be able to see the church’s treasures and appreciate their significance in the rich tapestry of past events.
With the Bitton Parish History Group, we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Ellacombe Chimes with a round the world chime.
- Our links with the Bristol Choral Society were re-established and a short biography of Robert Pearsall has been published.
- Through our local councillor, we obtained brown tourist sign to the church from the High Street.
- Visitors are provided with an audio description of some key artefacts within the church, placing them in their historical context.
- In 2022 we held an exhibition on the life and work of Cannon HN Ellacombe on the 200th anniversary of his birth.
- A number of expert reports have been commissioned on significant items to prioritise conservation and maintenance.
St Mary’s has many treasures and interesting features that we want to display in a way that is meaningful and interesting to the public; promoting heritage and attracting visitors. We need to display some of our more interesting objects and have them lit and explained more effectively to the visitor using modern methods of presentation.
FUTURE – Our Development Programme
St Mary’s is in many respects an ancient monument, but it is also a living church.
There are competing priorities, in that we need to both protect and maintain a historic building while also providing for the needs of future generations is not always easy to deliver.
Many of the church’s facilities are becoming outdated; the church is not energy efficient and more sustainable heating and lighting solutions to meet the ambitious targets set by the church.
Our ambition is to secure the church’s future while conserving its past. We want the changes to enable opportunities for hospitality, mission and heritage and address the future needs of the church in respect of its facilities and utilities seeking to make the church more energy efficient and safer for future generations.
We have looked at how other churches have reordered and developed, and discussions have already taken place with experienced church architects about how to make more effective use of the church internally. We have recognised the benefit of a comprehensive plan that can be taken forward in stages.
We submitted and received approval for an application for a temporary licence to remove the rear 5 pews and the choirstalls which was carried out in the autumn of 2017.
We have drawn up an initial proposal for development and have appointed an experienced architect to help us in its further development and delivery.
It is within this strand that we have focused on the future layout and facilities of the church. Taking note of the consultations and the advice of those who have developed solutions in other churches, we have moved cautiously to ensure that the community and congregation are engaged and happy with the changes, and to avoid making costly mistakes.
In developing our plans, visits were made to churches in Bristol and the surrounding counties where substantial reordering had been undertaken. Ideas and options that emerged from those visits were considered and in many instances discounted. One piece of advice, however, that was repeated and well taken, was that a major change of the type we were contemplating could not be undertaken piecemeal; changes needed to fit into an overall scheme and even if they could not all be completed at once, it was important not to effect change that would later have to be redone.
The future plans for St Mary’s are extensive and have been planned in 3 distinct phases for both the management of the proposals and for fundraising purposes:
Phase One: The first phase has already been completed This was the Archdeacon’s temporary licence to remove the rear 5 rows of pews and the choirstalls, which enabled us successfully to try out ideas. This phase was itself expensive, for which £45k had to be raised and spent.
Phase Two: The next phase is the most significant. It seeks to make the remaining pews mobile, put in a substantial floor on which the pews can then glide an make the whole space more inviting and hospitable by cleaning the walls and creating new serveries welcome desks and upgrading many of our facilities. Should this prove successful we can move on to the next phase.
Phase Three: our longer term plans are to go further and seek permission to demolish the boiler house and other utility buildings on the south side of the church and replace them with a larger low level building, connected to the church, that would to provide more lavatories, storage, and a small kitchen, suitable for catering purposes. Access would be obtained through the reopening of the south door, a Romanesque style doorway, walled up in the nineteenth century. This will also be the point at which the question of a suitable heat pump or other replacement of the existing boiler is considered.
Further details of each phase are given below. It is also possible that further phases of work will be identified to improve the environmental impact of the church and help move to carbon neutrality. There is clearly more that could be done, for example, in greater insulation of the roof and the possible use of photovoltaic tiles (which are becoming increasingly efficient), but we are not in a position to consider such changes presently.
4. Our Development Programme
The next step is to gain the necessary permissions from the church so that we can seek tenders for the work and work to find the needed funds to complete the work. We expect to hear form the Chancellor of the Diocese by the end of September, although we recognise there may be further challenges to overcome.
The PCC hopes to raise most of the money from national funders and money has already been raised from some providers including the Gloucestershire Historic Churches Trust and, most recently, from ASDA. You can find a list of those who have given money to date on our Development Fund Page on our website as well as the target reached so far.
Can you help?
There are many ways you can help:
By making a donation: Please give generously to support these plans. If these changes can be achieved they will leave a legacy, not just of a historic building but of an asset to the community and the church for many years to come. St Mary’s and its congregation. You can make a donation on line or directly to the Church Treasurer, John Bennetts. Please make cheques payable to St Marys Bitton DP.
By giving your time to help at one of our events or in helping raise money for the church development plans.
By sponsoring a pew or a paving stone: You can sponsor a pew for £1000 by making a single donation or by spreading the cost over a number of months. This will build one of 20 mobile pews enabling the church to be used more flexibly. Alternatively you can sponsor a paving stone covering approximately 1 square metre of floor. The cots for this is £250. There are leaflets in the church and a form on our website for both.
Please Gift Aid your donation as this increases the amount the church receives without costing you anything.