For more than 50 years the non-conformist chapel in the Sheffield General Cemetery stood unused and derelict.
But now it’s a ‘beautiful, light, bright building’, said Janet Ridler from the General Cemetery Trust as she stepped inside the venue, which officially reopens today (Thursday) following a three-year, £270,000 restoration project.
Repairs were carried out, a kitchen was fitted and heating installed to create a multi-purpose space, suitable for a raft of activities from concerts and exhibitions to theatre productions and wedding receptions.
“It’s certainly a venue with a difference,” said Janet. “There’s been a lot of interest already.”
The scheme to bring the chapel back to life was led by the trust, largely using money from the Challenge Fund for Historic Buildings at Risk. The results have caused the building in Sharrow to be taken off the national ‘at risk’ register.
At an opening ceremony the venue was set to be officially renamed the Samuel Worth Chapel, in honour of the Sheffield architect who designed the building in the 1830s.
“It’s well-used by the people who live round here but what we’re trying to do is get people in the broader Sheffield area to take notice of it,” said Janet. “It’s such a beautiful place and only 10 minutes from the city centre.”
The renovation was a long process, she explained.
“In the process of making it sound and repairing the building we had to have periods where we had to let it dry out. We’re working with a very old building, it’s never quick, but the finished results are well worth it.”
The discovery of bats nesting in the chapel – a ‘bats in the belfry situation, so to speak’, Janet laughed – also caused a delay, while close attention was paid to the floor, laid with stone quarried in Derbyshire.
“We’ve had a lot of interest and co-operation, and so much support from volunteers, neighbours and all the partners we work with.”
The chapel’s first booking is a private Christmas gathering ‘from somebody who lives close by who’s been watching with interest over the years’, Janet revealed. A jazz group has been signed up as an in-house band, with the potential for a regular Sunday jazz session.
The next project on the horizon at the cemetery will be the planned repairs to the old catacombs, which need shoring up.
The council was successful in bidding for £429,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to gauge the work required. In 2018 a full grant of £4 million will be applied for.
n Visit www.gencem.org for details on hiring the chapel.