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Café and shop breathe new life into church building

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A café and shop set up in an Amberley church has brought new life to the church building and united the community.

As a result of this community-owned and run venture, Holy Trinity is now a bustling hub of activity with people using the building seven days a week.

When Amberley’s local shop closed seven years ago, the villagers were concerned about losing a vital part of their village’s life.

Amberley church shop 8 | Café and shop breathe new life into church building
Volunteers Jackie Mitchell (left), Martyn Leighton and Deb Herbert.

They had the idea of creating a community shop and café at the back of Holy Trinity Church and were delighted to realise that this shared use principle for church buildings is being actively promoted by the Church of England.

John Gilbert said: “The Diocese has been incredibly supportive. They like to see church buildings being used and that’s what we’re doing here. The DAC has advised us all the way through and supported us.”

Amberley church shop 10 | Café and shop breathe new life into church building
Joana Esteves (left) and Jennifer Leroy enjoying a coffee.

The Revd Coral Francis, Assistant Curate, said: “People who were cautious at first about the idea of there being a money-making business at the back of church came to understand that it was a not-for-profit community enterprise rather than a money-making business.”

John Gilbert said: “We could not have done this without an extremely capable project manager in Neil Truphet.”

Neil added: “The church, under my direction, became the contractor. We ordered the materials, we took on the labour – some of the contractors were specialist sub-contractors, but I managed that whole process and that saved probably 20% off the build cost.”

Amberley church shop 1 | Café and shop breathe new life into church building

The project sought to have a low environmental impact, up-cycling where possible. The old pitch pine pews were stripped down and remodelled to make café tables and windows from the church were reused in a different setting. Reliance on the gas boilers has also been greatly reduced with the introduction of two air-source heat pumps.

A Community Benefit Society (CBS) was set up for the shop and café enterprise. Together the church and CBS raised over £270,000 through grants, donations, an appeal and fundraising activities. In addition to contributing to the building costs for the project, the church raised funds to improve accessibility into the church and accessible toilets in the old choir vestry and other areas of the building. This has enabled wheelchair users to join the volunteer team in the café. The money raised by the CBS was used for the building work and for setting up the shop and café.

Fundraising activities included quiz nights, book fairs, plant sales and lots of community events which brought people together for a common cause. People living in the village were also offered the chance to purchase shares in the CBS, raising over £70,000 and entitling them to have a say in the running of the shop and café. These shareholders will not receive dividends, but they will know that they have done something good for the long-term benefit of the village. A longer-term objective of the project is to plough surpluses back into good causes within the community.

The Revd Coral Francis, Assistant Curate, said: “We’re having people coming into the church who wouldn’t otherwise have come in and lingering in the church, looking around, appreciating the peace.”

Amberley church shop 4 | Café and shop breathe new life into church building

“This church now is a bustling, lively place, every day of the week.”

Neil said: “The feedback has been incredible. Almost 100 per cent of volunteers have said that the thing they like most is meeting other members of the village, meeting other volunteers, and just doing something useful for the village. Customers and residents are delighted with this new facility.”

The Archdeacon of Gloucester, the Ven Hilary Dawson, said: “This is a great example, and we hope an inspiration to you to think about what you might be able to do with your church building in your context. It’s wonderful to see this church being used every single day, blessing its community.”

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