Lancaster businesses join forces with us to regenerate historic church in Lancaster

The Churches Conservation Trust has been awarded a grant of £393,507 to work with Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce to open a co-working space in the redundant St John’s Church in Lancaster. 

The National Lottery Heritage Fund award is towards the development phase of the project, called The Chamber at St John’s, with additional funds raised via legacies to the Churches Conservation Trust, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and a substantial donation by a private individual of £20,000. 

St John’s was declared redundant as a place of worship in 1983 and has since struggled to find a new use. It is listed at Grade II* and on the Heritage at Risk Register, meaning its historic and architectural significance is under threat. The church was flooded during Storm Desmond in 2015, which caused outbreaks of wet and dry rot. Water ingress, falling plasterwork and structural problems have led to a large repair bill. Despite a generous response from people locally to a campaign to ‘Stop the Rot’, there are few active volunteers at the church and its poor condition and lack of facilities are overwhelming to potential supporters. 

Now, thanks to National Lottery players, a new chapter in the life of St John’s can begin. The funds from the Heritage Fund and others will pay for developing architectural designs for the reuse of St John’s as a co-working space where business, entrepreneurs and students can find hot-desks, meeting rooms and a collaborative, creative community. The grants will fund work by architects and engineers to devise a sustainable approach to heating and lighting this huge building, constructed in 1754-5, as well as proposals for its repair and conservation. The funds will also support business planning, marketing, digital advice, heritage interpretation, and a programme of ‘meanwhile’ events and activities to take place in the building as the plans are developed. Earlier this month, the church featured in Light Up Lancaster with an installation by Anne Bennett; more events like this are planned for 2023 and beyond.   

The Churches Conservation Trust will apply for a second Lottery grant to complete the capital phase of the project in 2023-4, with reopening scheduled for 2026. Lancaster City Council has pledged up to £500,000 or 20% of the total costs of the capital work. 

If the second bid is successful, St John’s would be transformed from a closed and redundant at risk building to a vibrant landmark in Lancaster city centre, enhancing the prosperity and wellbeing of the whole community. The new Chamber would be multi-purpose: used predominantly by the business community of Lancaster during office hours, it would be open to the public for concerts, talks, community events and heritage open days in the evenings and at weekends. In addition, the project promises a new public space in a revived churchyard garden and thoughtful interpretation of St John’s history, which is strongly connected to Lancaster’s role in Trans-Atlantic trade in the 18th century. 

The Chamber at St John’s project has been co-designed through an innovative partnership between the Churches Conservation Trust and Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce. The CCT brings to the project its expertise in community-led regeneration, building conservation and public engagement. LDCoC brings a beneficial new purpose to St John’s, as a co-working and enterprise space. 

Together, these two long-standing not-for-profit organisations can deliver an inspiring adaptive reuse project which is locally rooted, financially viable, and sustainable for the long-term.  

Jon Powell, President of the Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce said: 

“We are very excited by the news that we can continue our partnership with CCT and develop further our plans for the Chamber at St John’s. Lancaster District has a vibrant business and entrepreneurial community and we want to add a place-based offer to Chamber of Commerce members and the wider community. A place where people can come together, innovate, solve problems and work on the challenges we face in society. The Chamber is a community of over 350 businesses and employers and we are excited about the prospect of a co-working offer for the community with the Lancaster and District Chamber fulfilling our role as the beating heart of the business community right in the centre of the city."

Greg Pickup, Chief Executive of the Churches Conservation Trust said: “We’re delighted that we’ve received this support, thanks to National Lottery players. This pioneering regeneration project promises a new beginning for St John’s, turning it from a closed and decaying building – with connections to a darker period in British economic history – to a beacon of welcome, enterprise and creativity in Lancaster city centre.”