Re-use -
A Solution
For Modern

Church Street
Lower Weedon


Issue 120 May 2000 Page 154
The Second Dissolution
Ecclesiastical salvage is a sensitive issue but, says Neville Griffiths, it's better to reuse materials from a church than to allow them to be lost forever.
The removal of fixtures and fittings from religious buildings sounds horrendous but, before you condemn it, read on. Ecclesiastical salvage can be about regeneration.

What prompted me to enlighten you in this sensitive area was an interesting church I went to see recently. It fitted into the alternative version of the three Rs - redundant. Reorder or refurbish. The new congregation had been ripping out and throwing away some of the old interior when one of the churchgoers read the article in PL about buying from a demolition site. He realised that what they had was worth something and, fortunately, gave me a call. The weird thing was he didn't know I'd written the piece but, for me, it made the tour of the church that bit more special.

Buying from a church is a sensitive issue, but we can't stand back and allow the building's treasures to be lost forever. If you can reuse the materials, then you can take some of the spirit of the church and bring It back to life.

So why are churches being refurbished? Well, many have become fashion victims. There were (and still are) many different denominations in existence and obviously many buildings without modern facilities. As most of you who own an older property know, they can be a bottomless money pit. Some churches have had feasibility studies done and one of their solutions for revitalising their 'brand' is to thin down their properties and focus on the remaining ones. Many buildings are also having to earn their keep by becoming multifunctional. So the removal of fixed pews has become inevitable. I'd say that, at the moment, 70 per cent of salvage is coming from churches which are modernising and refurbishing.

So where do all these materials go? Considering they're not modern enough for some churches, there's still a demand for their strong design. At the moment, a lot is going to Japan. Japanese interest in our culture is extremely high and it's very fashionable to have a themed white wedding. Sometimes complete interiors are shipped out.

For many years, ecclesiastical salvage ended up being used to decorate the interiors of pubs or hotels. Again, fashion has played its part and this is now falling from grace. But it's not dead either. What's interesting is the switch from selling to trade to selling to retail. More homeowners are now buying ecclesiastical salvage, which I think is a positive move forward. It's great for creating atmosphere. I like taking the 'wow factor' you get from a church and implanting it in a different environment. It's also ironic that some lecterns and pews are finding their way back into churches I know of a Catholic church built in the 1970's which has just bought some Church of England pews. Isn't fashion strange! The point is many dealers are rescuers and they're motivated to buy from churches by the terrible sight of seeing beautiful craftsmanship destroyed.

Is it right or wrong? Debating that question, sadly, makes decisions about what should be saved all the more difficult, and slow, which can be disheartening. Kids, stones, matches and an empty building are a recipe for disaster. I feel that if a fantastic interior (or exterior) is running the risk of being lost forever, somebody has to be prepared to make a positive decisions about its future, and quickly.

A more imaginative approach for the purist and the romantic