The Parish Church has traditionally been at the heart of village life, providing a spiritual and social focus for the community. Sadly, throughout the land many village churches have been unable to adapt to changing needs, becoming a maintenance burden on the community, preserving a building which is restricting and inflexible.
In Bradfield, although the Parish Church of St Andrew has served the community well for many years, it has suffered from the combination of a difficult location, a very inflexible design, the growth of Bradfield College with its own chapel, and a shift in the centre of the community. St Peter’s Church in Bradfield Southend was built in 1965. It is in the centre of the modern community, and has thrived. Sadly, the building is very limiting and severely restricts the activities that can take place.
Bradfield Parochial Church Council (PCC), who are responsible for the care of both churches, now have the opportunity to build a new church adjacent to the site of St Peter’s.
After many years consulting with the church membership, the various user groups, members of the local community, the Diocese of Oxford and architects, Bradfield PCC are proposing to build a new parish church on the site of the Rectory. This new church would in effect replace both St Andrew’s and St Peter’s churches.
As well as church services, St Peter’s also accommodates a pre-school and various church and community activities during the week. It is in daily use, and it is important that the current building remains available until the new church is complete.
In order to raise money for this project, as well as to provide a replacement Rectory for the Diocese, we propose an enabling development of six semi-detached houses alongside one detached dwelling, which will be the replacement Rectory and which will remain in the ownership of the Diocese. The houses will provide much of the funding required, but we will still need to raise significant money from within the church membership and by applying for various grants.
History of churches in Bradfield
There has been a church in Bradfield probably as far back as the 8th Century, although the current parish church of St Andrew’s dates from the 14th Century. In the 1840s, this church was extensively reshaped and enlarged by the Rev Thomas Stevens and, needing a choir to sing in the new enlarged church, he founded the school which surrounds it today – Bradfield College. The Parish Church has served well as the centre of worship and has been an important part of the life of the Parish for personal and community events.
In the mid-1960s, the PCC felt the need for another place of worship in Southend, a part of the parish of Bradfield which was growing rapidly. St Peter’s Church was built on land which was formerly part of the Rectory Garden and owned by the PCC. It was opened in 1965. Services have always been more family focussed and less traditional than the parish church. In the 1970s, St Peter’s Pre-school was started in the building, which was extended in the 1980s to accommodate the increase in usage.
In recent years, the congregation worshipping in St Andrew’s declined, due amongst other things, to the lack of heating in the building, the difficulty in parking close by, inaccessibility for disabled persons or those with limited mobility, and its remoteness from the majority of the residents of Bradfield. The state of the building was causing considerable concern to the PCC and the cost projection for maintenance over the next five years was approximately £500,000. Even if we spent this, we would just keep the building standing; it wouldn’t have better facilities or attract more people. The Diocese recommended looking for alternative users for the building. In view of the historical links with the church, the Archdeacon of Berkshire recommended to the PCC that ownership, and thus the responsibility, for St Andrew’s could be transferred to Bradfield College, who had shown some interest in acquiring it, and a new parish church should be built on the site of St Peter’s. In 2014, the PCC took the decision to cease holding services in St Andrew’s and the remaining congregation dissipated to St Peter’s or St Denys’ in Stanford Dingley, the other traditional church in the United Benefice of Bradfield and Stanford Dingley. Others went to St Mary’s Church, Bucklebury.
Whilst the congregation at St Andrew’s declined, St Peter’s maintained a lively congregation of around 50 – 60 adults and children. That number is the optimum number for the size of the worship area, so there is little room for expansion. The building is of a wooden construction and is nearing the end of its life. With services no longer taking place at St Andrew’s, there is a need for a new parish church, recognisable as such to the village, suitable for weddings, funerals and community services. Whilst St Peter’s has now become the functional parish church for Bradfield, the aesthetics of the design do not lend themselves for such uses, as well as it being too small and inflexible.
In 2007, the PCC was acutely aware that St Peter’s was in urgent need of repair. The Preschool, who had been using the extension at the back of the original wooden building, had had to move their operation into the front because the floor had become unsafe. It was also very difficult to heat.
Following discussion, a feasibility study was commissioned with JBKS Architects, who had been recommended by the Diocese. Various options were considered:
- Demolition of the current building and replacing it with a new building.
- Not sufficient space for a building appreciably larger than already there.
- Services and Pre-School would have to relocate during the build.
- Building a new church on the field at the back of both St Peter’s and the Rectory.
- Too expensive for the limited resources to hand
- The church would be virtually invisible from the road
- It would take too long to realise as the need was urgent
In view of the urgent need to renew the accommodation at the rear of the building, used primarily but not exclusively by the Pre-School, the PCC decided on a more temporary but quicker solution by replacing the rear sections with five modular units. These were erected in 2009.
This however was only intended as a temporary solution, and the need to deal with the front of St Peter’s remained and the PCC appointed a Building Committee to progress matters.
In May 2013, the PCC agreed to build a new church suitable for being a parish church in the future and to close St Andrew’s. Following that there have been regular reviews of the evolving proposals. We have taken a “best of both” approach aiming to combine the good points of both St Andrew’s and St Peter’s, without taking on the bad points. The PCC appointed JBKS Architects, with whom we had worked on earlier feasibility studies. There have been various meetings with church members and with the wider community, much work on the proposals and in January 2016, the PCC voted to seek planning consent for the latest plans.