Anonymous donor offers hope for Georgian church in Lancaster

An anonymous donor has given £20,000 to the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) towards a project to find a new use for the Church of St John the Evangelist in Lancaster. The Grade II*-listed church was vested in CCT in 1983. St John’s has been closed to the public since 2015, when Storm Desmond caused flooding in the city centre. Subsequent problems have included both wet and dry rot.

Dry rot at St John's church Lancaster

A successful fundraising campaign – Stop the Rot – tackled the most urgent of these issues and CCT has recently invested £51,875 to fund vital repairs with support from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund. Nonetheless, further investment is required to fully repair and conserve the church and to provide the facilities – such as WCs, kitchen, disabled access – that would enable it to be used more effectively.

Earlier this year, the CCT began working with the Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce to find a sustainable new use for St John’s. Market research identified the need for high-quality co-working and event spaces to support small and medium-sized enterprises in Lancaster, helping local people to grow their businesses and the city centre to flourish.

With funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund, the CCT commissioned Buttress Architects to explore how St John’s might be sensitively converted for use as a co-working and event space. The Buttress proposals are for a ‘marketplace’ in the nave at St John’s – adapting the church’s historic box pews to create individual desk spaces and space for events and networking with further meeting and work spaces provided in the upper galleries. A new coffee shop and churchyard garden would be open to members of the public. An extension in the north-eastern corner of the churchyard would provide additional facilities including WCs and a lift.

St John's Lancaster interior

The surprise donation of £20,000 will support the development of the project’s next stage. The CCT and the Chamber of Commerce are working together to complete a full business plan, survey the condition of the building, assess the full costs of repair, explore fundraising opportunities, and consider ways in which the regenerated building might mitigate the effects of climate change and achieve net-zero. This will allow CCT to unlock support pledged by Lancaster City Council, who have offered to fund 20% of the capital costs (up to £500,000) towards conservation repair work providing a sustainable new use for the building can be found.

Judith Patrick, CCT Head of North Region said: “This generous donation was a huge surprise to the project team and a real boost for CCT. Along with support from Lancaster City Council and the Architectural Heritage Fund, it will allow us to really move the project forward and to secure a sustainable future for St John’s. Not only that, it also demonstrates the care and interest people have for this wonderful building, and will help us to ensure that it is at the heart of city centre life once more”

The project team are consulting with members of the public and local stakeholders at an open day with hard-hat tours on Wednesday 15 September from 1pm until 4pm. Plans will be on display and the team are keen to hear ideas and feedback. See Events | Heritage Open Days for further details.