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Commercial Use Case Study

The former church of St Benedict is a Grade II* listed building of 1880 in inner‑city Manchester. The church closed in 2002 and was sold to a consortium led by a well‑known rock climber, for use as a climbing centre.

Buttress Fuller Alsop Williams designed the internal alterations. The centre opened in 2005 after securing permissions and achieving the conversion work quickly.

Image of the exterior of the former St Benedict's Church, an imposing red brick building of 1880.
The exterior of the former Church of St Benedict, built in 1880. The conversion to a climbing centre has not had a large impact externally. © Historic England

Alterations

The new owners erected steel-framed climbing walls in the nave and installed a mezzanine floor in the chancel. This provided two levels for a cafe, shop and 'bouldering' cave. They also installed toilets in the former vestry and the Lady Chapel now contains the reception area. They were also able to refurbish the attached presbytery for use as community rooms.

The scale of the building would have suggested there was little chance of avoiding significant sub‑division if a viable new use was to be found. Yet in this scheme retains the volume of the nave, with views of both the east and west windows, so that it remains a dramatic and impressive space.

The climbing walls and the mezzanine are fixed to footings below the floor and therefore free of the walls. The horizontal subdivision affects the spatial character of the east end, but no significant fittings were affected and architectural features and finishes remain visible.

Image o fthe interior of the Manchester climbing centre showing the climbing walls and how the centre fits into the nave of the former church.
The former Grade II* church of St Benedict is a successful climbing centre. © Historic England

Sustainable future

Conversion to a climbing centre has given this building a sustainable long‑term future and contributed to local regeneration. The early success of the centre enabled the creation of a maintenance fund.

Regular inspection of the exterior of the building, including valley gutters has helped to keep it in generally good condition. Despite the high running costs, the building is well‑suited to its new use: its height is ideal for climbing walls and it has been possible to accommodate other activities within the existing ancillary spaces, minimising the need for subdivision or extension.

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