Guiding Principles for New Uses

When you are developing plans which propose additional uses for a place of worship, there are some general principles below to help you.

Assessing significance

Firstly, as with all schemes which propose alterations to an historic place of worship, you need to understand your building’s significance. Once you have a good understanding of your building’s design, materials, contents and setting, you will be able to fully assess the impact of potential changes. This will help you to develop realistic ideas about what is possible in your building.

When you apply to make changes to a place of worship, you will often need to write Statements of Significance and Need. These will help you and decision makers to understand the impact of the changes and why they are necessary.

For more information on how to assess significance and write Statements of Significance and Need, please see here.

Image of the exterior of a former church showing branding for Northumbria University.
A converted church, the Trinity Building is now used by Northumbria University for IT facilities and office space. © Sara Crofts / SPAB

General principles

When you are planning additional uses for your place of worship, we recommend that you consider doing the following:

  • Developing a full understanding of the architectural, historic, archaeological, cultural and community significance of the building. This may involve developing Statements of Significance.
  • Responding to a clearly stated and demonstrable need of the congregation and / or community. You may wish to develop a Statement of Need.
  • Ensuring that changes respect the significance of the building, its contents and setting.
  • Making sure that your proposals minimise intervention in significant historic fabric.
  • Achieving high standards of design, craftsmanship and materials in your design.
  • Identifying and addressing any major repair issues at the outset.

Please also see our information on making changes to historic places of worship.

Developing proposals for additional uses

When you develop proposals for additional uses, you must check whether you need permission. For external changes, this is likely to include planning permission from your local authority. For internal changes, you may need listed building consent from the local authority or equivalent consent from your denominational body.

Some issues to consider when developing proposals include:

  • Is your building listed or part of it scheduled? Will this affect the permission you need?
  • Have you consulted your denominational body or local authority about any proposed changes? Do you need planning permission or listed building consent
  • What documents or information do you need to inform decisions, eg list description, records of previous works, local development plan?
  • If you are proposing a large-scale additional use such as a shop, do you need to consult the local authority beforehand for permission?
  • What are the likely parking, amenity space and access requirements? How will you accommodate these?
  • What are the likely requirements for an archaeological report? Any works to a churchyard or cemetery still in use will require permission.
  • Is your building generally in good condition? Will you need to carry out repairs before making other changes?
  • How will you fund the project?
  • If proposals involve an addition or extension to your place of worship, how will you manage the additional maintenance and repair costs?
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