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Near-abandoned Portsmouth church given a community lifeline

Words:
Hugh Pearman

Studio B.A.D.'s St Margaret’s Community Church combines a food bank, a café, second-hand shop, soft-play area and bicycle repair workshop

The café with its donated ex-Debenhams furniture.
The café with its donated ex-Debenhams furniture. Credit: Richard Chivers

Building St Margaret’s Community Church
Location Southsea, Portsmouth
Architect Studio B.A.D
Building type Church and community centre

St Margaret’s was decaying and all but abandoned a few years ago, unlisted, its tiny remaining congregation dispersed. This Edwardian church with a 1950s frontage inevitably faced the chop. But the diocese gave it one last chance, bringing in an outreach team to establish what facilities people needed that a church could help provide – even on a shoestring budget. Then they set to work with a firm of architects, Studio B.A.D run by Darren Bray, committed to community engagement and enlightened reuse. Today it is the same physical building, but an entirely different kind of place: a real mixed-use community asset for everyone, not just those who happen to be people of faith.

It contains a well-used food bank, a café, a shop specialising in second-hand clothes and housewares, an impressively large two-storey children’s soft-play area and – in a church context perhaps the most unexpected function – a bicycle repair workshop. This is run by the local youth-support charity Motiv8, its purpose being to impart useful, employable skills to youngsters who have slipped through the education/training net/care net.

It is a real mixed-use community asset for everyone, not just those who happen to be people of faith

  • ‘The aisle is full of noises’. With apologies to Shakespeare’s Tempest, here is the children’s multi-level play area.
    ‘The aisle is full of noises’. With apologies to Shakespeare’s Tempest, here is the children’s multi-level play area. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Pleasingly simple partition and sliding door to meeting and Sunday school space.
    Pleasingly simple partition and sliding door to meeting and Sunday school space. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • The 1950s frontage has a new more welcoming entrance, respectful of the architecture.
    The 1950s frontage has a new more welcoming entrance, respectful of the architecture. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Wide nave and aisle arches suit the new uses. Heated polished concrete floor is a boon.
    Wide nave and aisle arches suit the new uses. Heated polished concrete floor is a boon. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Lounge space for kids and young teens during services.
    Lounge space for kids and young teens during services. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Snug place for kids reading. Like most of the fittings, it can be wheeled around.
    Snug place for kids reading. Like most of the fittings, it can be wheeled around. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • The church has taken on something of a congenial bazaar feel.
    The church has taken on something of a congenial bazaar feel. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Very necessary new toilets are inserted into one side of the entrance lobby.
    Very necessary new toilets are inserted into one side of the entrance lobby. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • The well-used food bank repurposes former communion tables from side chapels.
    The well-used food bank repurposes former communion tables from side chapels. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Tucked away beside the chancel is a two-floor bike workshop providing skills training.
    Tucked away beside the chancel is a two-floor bike workshop providing skills training. Credit: Richard Chivers
  • Ground floor plan.
    Ground floor plan. Credit: Studio B.A.D
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The key to this project was to do the maximum possible in fundable chunks, getting the new uses running as soon as the place could be safely used rather than waiting years to accrue the money to do a total refurbishment. There’s a lot of ‘meanwhile use’ thinking involving clever deployment of cheap and donated materials.

A polished-concrete heated floor powered by air-source heat pumps has transformed the look and feel of the interior; it became a pleasant place, good for just about any activity.

What’s notable is how the original layout of the church with its wide nave and broad arches to the aisles lends itself to the new function, as if it had been waiting for this new mix of uses. Clever design thinking has resulted in fittings that can easily be demounted and moved around for various activities. This once-forgotten church is now right back as a useful and inspiring hub for its community.

For more on MacEwen shortlisted projects and architecture for the common good see ribaj.com/MacEwen-Award

 

Credits

In numbers
Contract cost £350,000
GIA 475m2
Cost per m2 £737

 

Client St Margaret’s Community Church, Diocese of Portsmouth
Architect Studio B.A.D
Architectural consultant Roger Tyrell
Environmental consultant MESH Energy
Concrete consultant Grey Matter 
Photography Richard Chivers

 

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