On 9 March in Glasgow I had the pleasure of taking part in the excellent workshop arranged in partnership with Empowering Design Practices and the Church Buildings Renewal Trust (CBRT) - joining communities in the renewal of church buildings by engaging early in the design process.
Delegates came from groups engaged in Community Buy Outs and Church groups exploring projects to extend the use and flexibility of their respective properties, spaces that play a key role within their communities and contribute significantly to the local architectural townscape. Without either there would be a cultural gap in our towns and villages. There were also a number of professionals from the CBRT network in attendance.
After some inspiring stories from EDP team members Sophia and Vera about successful case studies, including a summary of the unique history of our venue at Adelaide Place Baptist Church, we were introduced to approaches of engaging people in design and demystifying the process. The workshop which followed in the afternoon proved of great value to the groups as they explored in their own contexts the implications of putting into practice the principles outlined in the morning session.
One of these activities engaged delegates in memory mapping the details of their buildings, identifying the qualities of the positive and negative aspects that need to be addressed to improve the spaces and their use. They used practical tools of drawing and explored the effects of changing the ambience of spaces with light and colour and creating intimate spaces for personal reflection in contrast to the environment required for corporate worship. This included the use of focal points, artwork and music and user participation. Even small differences in how participants approached the activities were interesting. The engineer in the group would use a brown pen to draw the building as literally as he could, whereas the artist in the group used colour and sketching to express what might enhance the space.
This is the core vision of the Church Building Renewal Trust as we try to bring together precedented successful projects with struggling non-empowered communities to inspire them to the full potential of their assets in the form of their buildings and properties. New ways of funding can then be explored and as a committee we found the day encouraged us to think about using the tools and methods being developed in the research programme of the Empowering Design Practices project. We greatly appreciated the input and collaboration with the project and hope it proves to be an ongoing partnership that can be of mutual benefit in practical ways as we all move forward together.
Colin McNeish FRIAS is Chairman of the Church Buildings Renewal Trust