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New and Additional Uses for Places of Worship

Most places of worship can accommodate some form of additional use. These pages aim to help congregations and owners or occupiers of places of worship looking for additional or new uses.

This page contains information on:

Image of the interior of St Neot in Cornwall during their Flower Festival, showing various displays of flowers adorning the pews, arches and nave.
St Neot in Cornwall has held a local flower festival and adorned various parts of the church with displays. © Chris Timms

A spectrum of use

There is a spectrum of use for places of worship buildings.

For some denominations, worship is the only acceptable use for buildings where worship takes place. Any additional uses will need to take place in ancillary buildings such as church halls. We support the efforts of congregations to keep their places of worship open.

Many buildings do accommodate additional uses alongside worship. We encourage projects which aim to provide services or space to the local community or raise further income. Some ambitious schemes have even built new structures inside a place of worship so that additional uses have their own spaces. There will also be cases where a place of worship has to close and a new use must be found under new ownership.

Image of the former Zion Baptist Chapel now in use as a music shop.
A former Baptist Chapel in Ely has a new use as a music shop. © Sara Crofts / SPAB

Identifying new and additional uses

The range of additional and new uses for places of worship is very broad. It includes community, domestic, retail, office, educational, industrial, sports, museum and entertainment use. Some buildings have a varied history featuring a number of different religious and secular uses.

If you are developing plans for additional or new uses in a place of worship, these should be appropriate to the historic character and fabric of the building. Any new or additional uses should also be based firmly in local need to give them the best chance of success.

You also need to think about whether they are economically viable in a building’s particular location. Ideally, any additional use will allow for regular public access.

It can be challenging to make additional or new uses work in historic places of worship as they are often of great historical and architectural importance. There are, however, many examples where additional uses have been successfully developed to work alongside worship.

There is also a wide range of models for managing a place of worship which accommodates multiple uses. This includes places of worship either partly or wholly in secular use. For more information on these models, please see our ownership, management and responsibility page.

In the pages below are some case studies showing the variety and range of new and additional uses in places of worship.

What uses are appropriate?

When developing new uses, you need to consider whether they are appropriate for your place of worship. This will involve considering various factors.

Our main concern is with the appropriateness of an additional use in terms of its impact on the significance of historic buildings. Others will be more concerned about what is appropriate in a place of spiritual significance. You need to establish whether there are any restrictions in place for a new or additional use.

Some buildings have a greater capacity to accommodate physical changes and additional uses than others. You should use Statements of Significance and Need to guide you when considering the sensitivity to change of your building and its setting. For more information on making changes to accommodate additional uses, please see here.

In the case of closed places of worship, the preferred option is for re‑use by another congregation, provided continued maintenance could be assured. A new liturgy can have a considerable impact on the character of an interior, but is likely to require fewer physical interventions in the fabric of the building than many non‑worship uses.

See our guiding principles page for information on developing proposals for new and additional uses.

What uses are viable?

When you are considering new and additional uses, you also need to take into account their viability in your place of worship. This will involve taking into consideration the location, size and adaptability of your place of worship, as well as its users and local needs.

You will need to be particularly careful when considering uses within a rural place of worship. The community needs to be able to sustain any commercial or community use, such as a village shop, post office or café.

Please see the community use and commercial use case study pages below for ideas about potential uses.

Closed and closing places of worship

There may also be other issues to consider if you are dealing with or deciding whether to buy a closed or closing place of worship.

Former places of worship are often sold with covenants (formal agreements) setting out access, future changes of use, and other legal matters. They may also set out how new owners must treat fixtures and fittings such as pews, screens, monuments and liturgical features. As these are important to the character of the building the local authority may also apply conditions on their future treatment.

This doesn't mean that you will not be able to make changes to former places of worship. The key to successful adaptation is an understanding of the most significant parts of the building so that they can be conserved with any new use.

Sale of closed places of worship

Church of England parish churches are subject to a particular legal process for closure and re-use, overseen by the Church Commissioners. Most other Christian denominations simply dispose of their buildings by advertising them with local estate agents. Other places of worship are normally treated as charitable assets subject to the laws covering the responsibilities of trustees.

The law makes provision so that, in certain circumstances, Trustees are not obliged to dispose of the property at full market value. Guidance on the options that are open to trustees wishing to dispose of places of worship no longer needed for regular worship is available here.

For more specific information on buying a place of worship, you need to contact the relevant denominational body or faith group.

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