Historic Lancaster church could become co-working space for city businesses

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A Lancaster church that suffered a burst pipe and water damage last winter is showing signs of renewal as summer begins.

St John’s Church in the city centre now has a talented and committed team working together to develop plans for its reuse.

Architects, business specialists and volunteers are supporting the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) and Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce in realising their vision of the church as a new co-working space for Lancaster’s business and enterprise community.

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Mosedale Gillatt Architects are leading on the conservation, repair and design aspects of the project, which was awarded National Lottery Heritage funding late last year.

The interior of St John's Church in Lancaster. The church will be open to the public on Saturday, June 17.The interior of St John's Church in Lancaster. The church will be open to the public on Saturday, June 17.
The interior of St John's Church in Lancaster. The church will be open to the public on Saturday, June 17.

This award-winning architectural practice specialises in conservation projects, working with communities to deliver exceptional design and create great places to enjoy.

In parallel, Dan Knowles and Jane Dalton, of Lancaster-based Northern Reach, are providing business planning support to the project.

They are consulting widely with potential users of the planned co-work space in Lancaster and Morecambe to establish what the local business community needs from a new Chamber of Commerce building.

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A raft of other specialists are helping to improve understanding of St John’s and its churchyard, including Lancaster ecologists Simply Ecology surveying for bats and other wildlife, and Oxford Archaeology North, also with offices in Lancaster embarking on archaeological and historical research including a survey of the graves and memorials in the churchyard.

Results of these surveys will inform both plans for the building, to protect history and ecology.

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In addition to developing the detail of plans for the future, CCT has carried out some urgent work to stabilise the building and make it safe for occasional use.

The community response to the threat to the building’s heritage has been heartening and new volunteers are now undertaking regular checks of the fabric.

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Volunteers are opening the church on the third Saturday of every month and weekly costumed guided tours of the city include a chance to see the stunning Georgian interior.

It is also hoped that St John’s will be a part of Light Up Lancaster again this November.

Following the current programme of development work throughout 2023, CCT will apply for a second National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to fund the capital phase of the project, seeking to turn the plans into reality with reopening scheduled for 2026.

Lancaster City Council have already generously pledged up to £500,000 (or 20% of the total costs of the capital work) for this next stage of work.

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This support from the City Council and other partners will allow St John’s to be transformed from a closed and redundant at risk building to a vibrant landmark, enhancing the prosperity and wellbeing of the whole community, and supporting regeneration of the Mill Race area and wider city centre.

Dan Knowles of Northern Reach said: "I'm thrilled to be involved in this project. Being able to see the stories of The Chamber and St John's Church unfold against the backdrop of their rich history is a real privilege. I truly believe that St John's will offer the perfect location for Chamber members and other enterprising stakeholders in the city centre."

St John’s will next be open to the public on Saturday June 17, 11am – 1pm, for anyone who would like to see the church interior.