Are you sitting comfortably?
Squeaky bum time is over at one Sheffield church, where parishioners have won their fight to worship in comfort.
Christ Church in Heeley had applied for permission to overhaul the interior of the Grade II-listed building including replacing the pews with comfy chairs, to make it better suited for modern uses.
But the Victorian Society objected to the loss of the 19th century pews, which it claimed contributed to the church’s ‘character and appearance’, and the conservation group also opposed plans to carpet much of the floor.
The Church of England’s Consistory Court has now ruled the £290,000 makeover should be allowed to go ahead in full.
Sarah Spear, deputy chancellor of the Diocese of Sheffield, wrote in her ruling: “The benefit to be gained from comfortable seating in my judgment outweighs any small aesthetic advantage that might come from introducing un-upholstered wooden furniture.”
She added: “I have no difficulty in concluding that the proposed works as a whole are entirely justified and will be of great benefit to this church and the community it serves in pursuing its mission in a modern and relevant manner.”
She commended the petitioners for putting ‘a great deal of thought into the needs of their congregations and community’, while also bearing in mind the building’s ‘financial viability’.
“The proposed scheme will produce a space which is beautiful, functional and inviting, which will greatly assist Christ Church as it seeks to reconnect with the local community,” she concluded.
As well as the pews being removed, the planned transformation would see the oak pulpit shifted, underfloor heating and a new lighting and audio-visual system installed, and a crèche area created, among other changes.
The parochial church council argued the work would make the building, dating from 1846, better suited to the modern day needs of the diverse community it serves.
It described the removal of the pews and levelling and carpeting of the floors as key to the proposed scheme and ‘vital to the mission and future of the church’.
The church on Gleadless Road, which is also known as Heeley Parish Church, is used by a wide variety of organisations, including preschool groups, Guides, and church bodies from the Nepalese, Ethiopian and Indian Tamil communities. A new community café, called CafeCare, was launched there earlier this year.
But the church’s ‘Statement of Need’ describes how numbers are falling and the surrounding community is ‘disconnected’ from the church.
The parish church already has £100,000 for the project and is seeking a further £190,000 through grants and fundraising.
Historic England, which did not oppose the work, said ‘a case could be made for the removal of the pews to facilitate the parish’s desire for more flexibility in worship style and greater use of the space by the wider community’.
The Church Buildings Council also raised no objection, saying ‘the proposals appear to be an improvement to the current situation and will not result in harm to the historic fabric’.