New Facilities in Places of Worship

We generally encourage schemes for new facilities which result in the least harm to the significance of your building. The design of new facilities should be based on an understanding of the significance of your place of worship.

You will need to carefully consider all the options, issues like cost and the impact on the significance of your building.  In some cases, you may be able to accommodate new facilities within your existing building, especially if there are areas that can be easily adapted. In other cases, you may wish to add an extension or create an additional structure.

Please also see our information on the permission process.

Image of an extension attached to the side of a church building. Visually, it looks similar to the church, but is clearly subordinate rather than part of the main building.
Extension to the side of a church building in Suffolk. © Historic England
Image of an extension attached to the side of a church building. Visually, it looks similar to the church, but is clearly subordinate rather than part of the main building.
Extension to the side of a church building in Suffolk. © Historic England

Successful solutions

Successful designs will result from a close understanding of your building and sensitivity to both scale and detail. It is not normally justifiable for any addition to dominate the existing building or its setting because of scale, materials or situation.

It is our experience that the most satisfactory additions to historic places of worship are those which form a harmonious composition with the building to which they are attached and consequently appear to be a natural development of it. Aisles, transepts, chapels, vestries and porches all provide an established vocabulary for the extension of churches.

When considering options, we recommend that you take into account the cost of building work and the extra burden of maintenance in the future. The most satisfactory additions to historic places of worship are those which appear to be a natural development of the building and which form a harmonious composition with it.

When you are considering new structures, the best solution will depend on the impact of a structure on your building’s setting, architectural character and physical fabric. This includes the standing structure, underground building features and archaeological remains, including burials.  It is also good practice to consider the cost of any archaeological work required.

Some sites, particularly large urban ones, may be able to accommodate quite substantial additions successfully, but it is more difficult to significantly enlarge smaller places of worship.

Working with your building

When you consider adding a new structure, it is best to understand as much as you can about how the building developed.

Many places of worship, particularly medieval ones, have developed gradually and it may be relatively easy for you to create further, proportionate, additions. It may be less easy for you to add to single-phase buildings or those which mainly have one architectural style. This is because the completeness of design is part of their character and significance.

It is difficult to successfully design detached rooms linked to the main building by a corridor without detracting from the setting of an historic building. In many cases, you may be able to create access to the existing building through an existing or blocked doorway. This is normally preferable to creating new openings in historic fabric.

We recommend that materials should harmonise with those of the existing building. In many cases this means that you need to match the materials, although where a close match cannot be achieved, a complementary material or finish may be appropriate. We also recommend that materials should be durable, of high quality and display a high level of workmanship.

New buildings within the grounds or churchyard

If you are designing a new detached building in the grounds of a listed place of worship the main issues will be its location and effect on the setting of both the place of worship and surrounding buildings. The location of a new structure should be guided by an assessment of archaeological significance.

You are likely to require planning permission as well as denominational consent for a new building or extension. Please see our page on churchyards and cemeteries for more information.

When considering the potential impact on setting, please see our good practice advice note on the setting of heritage assets.

Scale, design and materials are still important, but there may be more flexibility than if you were adding to the existing place of worship. Many places of worship are in conservation areas and any new building will need to respond to the existing character of the local area.

As well as forming part of the historic setting of a church, churchyards may be sites of archaeological, townscape or wildlife importance. Discussion with the relevant authorities should provide guidance as to any constraints of the location of a detached building.

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