A Little Goes a Long Way at St Andrew’s Church

In construction, as in many other sectors, the saying of “a little goes a long way” is unfortunately not generally true – capital projects tend to reflect the level of investment in them. However, when a relatively modest investment is coupled with great design, the results can be spectacularly successful.

In 2001, the congregation of St Andrews United Reform Church in Monkseaton, set up a Development Committee to investigate the feasibility of  improving the accessibility and toilet provision for their heavily used Church Hall adjacent to the Church. Built in 1939, the Church itself was also in need of some investment for new lighting and the then Minister, Gordon Connacher, turned to Newcastle-based architects, Jane Darbyshire & David Kendall Ltd (JDDK), for initial designs after being impressed by their work at St Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth.

JDDK Director and Project Architect, Ian Clarke, explained the challenge, “The Church and Church Hall were connected by a utilitarian link block which had created a little used courtyard to the front of the buildings, yet the Hall itself was very heavily used together with its limited toilet and kitchen facilities. The design required a way to tie the two buildings together, creating additional interior space, improving accessiblity and facilities, and providing a central point of welcome. The new work had to be visibly sympathetic to the existing architecture and respond to the human scale and character of the surrounding suburban houses in this packed residential Conservation Area. We had an unknown but limited budget, which would depend on fund raising  for the whole project.”

Some seven years later, the results of the congregation’s fund raising work, which has raised £600,000 in the intervening period, the architects’ designs and the construction work by DP Builders of Amble have been officially opened in a celebration weekend by Rowena Francis, Moderator of the Northern Synod of the United Reform Church.

The development has created an entirely new entrance to the Church Hall which compliments and reinforces the existing architecture whilst answering the brief of refurbishing and improving the building, as Derek Stembridge, Treasurer of the Development Committee, commented, “The new entrance is absolutely stunning but only hints at the interior where the Church Hall has been totally transformed to create a superb facility for the local community. The entrance leads into a light filled reception area with servery and then into the Hall with a new toilet block complete with disabled access facilities. In addition, new lighting, flooring and decoration has transformed the whole building.”

“The project had begun by looking at improving access to the Hall, but it became apparent that with over 1,000 people using the facility a week, including over 400 children, there was a real need to improve the building and we began to think of something on a grander scale!”

“Our main concern over the construction has been to be to minimise any disruption to the local community as the streets are very narrow around the Church and the builders have been very good here, particularly the Site Manager, David Curtis, with the result that there hasn’t been a single complaint. The overall objective was to support the local community and we now have a superb facility in which all are welcome as we build for the future.”

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