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Community Use Case Study: Belper, Derbyshire

The former chapel of St John was founded in 1260 and retains a simple, medieval appearance with a vernacular character. It was previously restored in 1870. The building is listed at Grade II and was declared closed for worship in 1986.

Belper Town Council converted it to community use in 1989-90 from designs by Derek Latham Architects. The building remains in the ownership of the diocese of Derby which is paid a peppercorn rent by the Town Council.

Image of the exterior of the former Chapel of St John in Belper.
The exterior of the building showing the slope it is built on and the surrounding space. © Historic England Archive

Adaptation

The adapted building provides office space and a meeting room for the council in the west end of the nave, separated from a larger multi‑use space to the east by full height, partly glazed screens.

The work converted the 19th century vestry to provide an office for the Town Clerk, a kitchenette and toilets. Disabled access is via a moveable ramp in the south porch, and a stone‑paved ramp into the main east space. The project levelled the sloping nave floor but kept the four steps up to the chancel.

Externally, no additions or significant changes have been made. The conversion has had little impact on the closed burial ground and the current use is hardly expressed externally.

Internally, the sub-division of the historic volume has disrupted a sense of the medieval interior, although the partition is reversible. The levelling of the nave floor is not reversible, but the walls, windows and roof structure are intact, and the conversion generally has a ‘light touch’.

No historic seating remains in situ, although some 19th century pews have been re-set at the west end. Retained features include a 17th century stone altar, a 19th century reredos and relocated medieval font.

Interior of the former Chapel of St John in Belper, Derbyshire showing the levelled floor and ramp.
The project levelled the floor and provided a ramp for access, but kept the four steps up to the chancel. © Historic England Archive

Other considerations

The building is considered a pleasant working environment by the staff and provides attractive, low‑cost community facilities. There are current concerns about raising funds to address continuing structural movement at the west end.

The community use is said to be reliant on a car park on adjacent land owned by the parish, but this may be developed. The high cost of heating was cited as a concern. Otherwise, this case shows how a small church or chapel can be adapted for a sustainable community use straightforwardly and with a light touch.

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