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A Lasting Legacy How a renovation project in Yorkshire led to unexpected joys

Paul Crossley & Paul Kelly

Written by Paul Crossley and Paul Kelly

A drafty old church hall in dire need of some care served as a perfect opportunity for the parish of SS Mary & Michael in Settle, Yorkshire to create a sustainable and inviting space for the whole community to enjoy. Paul Crossley and Paul Kelly tell the story of how their parish renovation project led to unexpected blessings.

By 2006 it was clear repairs were badly needed to the 1962 built church hall because of deterioration and settlement of the structure from age and its location on sloping ground. Along with the cracks in the wall, the roof was leaking, the toilets at the rear of the church hall were in poor condition and down steep steps, and many of the single glazed windows were rotting. The draughty hall was very high from floor to ceiling, the floor being some 400mm drop from the attached Chapel floor. The only heating were infrared overhead bars.

Plans were drawn for refurbishment, initially involving a re-ordering of the church to take over the hall space but later modified to retain the hall as a parish and community facility. Although the Catholic Church in England had engaged very little publicly with the climate crisis at that time the project leaders saw from the outset an opportunity to improve energy efficiency, prioritising lowering of the ceiling, insulating the roof and double glazing the windows. But then God had bigger plans!

A church hall with exposed beams
The 'before' - a drafty church hall in need of repair

As the repairs and insulation progressed, the parish received a completely unexpected legacy from a long-standing annual visitor to the area. A man whose own life epitomised simple living and without family who split his estate between his home parish, ours and other Catholic charities. Despite his intense humility and modesty we think he would be delighted that his provision, complementing the growing awareness and influence of Laudato Si’, encouraged the parish to embrace the LiveSimply award and greatly extend the measures we could take.

We need to talk together – industry, investors, researchers and consumers – about transition and the search for alternatives. Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!

In the church hall we were able to raise the floor throughout to match the chapel, insulating it as we went. The heat-losing cracked blockwork/brick walls could be heavily insulated using external cladding and now look smart with acrylic flexible render. The whole roof was refurbished and a south-facing 3.6Kw solar panel installation contributes electricity to the local grid – so far 11,500KWh since 2018 – and, easily seen from the road, is a visible sign of our commitment to energy efficiency.

Solar panels on a church hall roof
Solar panels on top of the church hall

With a new energy-efficient boiler and separate thermostatic controls for chapel and hall, low energy lighting (that switches off in some areas if no-one is present) together with redecoration, refurbishment of the kitchen and toilet areas and a loop sound system the hall is now fantastic for parish events and hiring for use by the local community. It is wonderful to share such a welcome and welcoming facility in our rural small market town; it is toasty warm in winter at modest cost to the environment. Another part of our LiveSimply award has involved the development of a group of volunteers for Community Sponsorship of a refugee family from the conflict in Syria; they have been in Settle two years now. The improved hall is the perfect place for organising group training, public meetings and welcoming events.

And then there was money left over! As we held Laudato Si’ services and arranged talks to become familiar with Church teaching it soon became clear an energy makeover for the church itself would be a fitting use of the remainder. An investment in the future, not only of the parish but a contribution towards caring for our common home. Of more modern construction we were able to internally insulate the walls with cladding and insulate the church roof by installing a lowered ceiling and replace the old floor with new, easy to maintain hard-wearing flooring. A glazed folding hardwood screen was also installed to allow the church to open up into the hall to cater for larger congregations. We were also able to install dimmable recessed very low energy lighting, seal off a draughty porch (now refashioned into a light, fully-glazed mini side chapel) and add a new glazed entrance porch to both improve restricted mobility access and provide an additional barrier to unwanted heat loss from the body of the church.

People dancing in a church hall
A space for all to enjoy - a completed church hall refurbishment!

This year we feel so encouraged to hear the Bishops speaking from the heart, asking politicians for a new global understanding of our world and our common responsibility but also about the need for local concern and action which they point out may have far-reaching consequences (CBCEW Pastoral Letter for Pentecost 2021). We feel we are showing we can play our part as a Catholic community in our choices and everyday decisions. The legacy is all used now but we are certain we are building our own legacy of concern for God’s Creation. Already parishioners are looking at how we can alter the car park by replacing hard-packed stone that causes bad water run off with a plastic grid (recycled of course) planted with grass that encourages rain to replenish the ground. We intend to adapt our lawn into a wildflower meadow to encourage pollinators, and will continue holding ecumenical services for care of creation, and blessings of animals – all the time sharing our hopes, experiences and prayers with nearby churches who also are ‘greening’ (the Methodist church not 100yds from us has an Eco-congregation Award). It’s not a competition; together we can joyfully share the Gospel values that stewardship of the Lord’s creation is the essence of Christian responsibility.

Paul Crossley & Paul Kelly

About the Authors

Paul Crossley and Paul Kelly are parishioners at SS Mary & Michael in Settle, Yorkshire, who led on a ground-breaking project to renovate and improve the energy efficiency of their church hall.


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