Graylingwell Chapel’s steering group have been to London to look at different venues and to get ideas for the chapel. The result? A paradigm shift… the ideas for the chapel are evolving.
The Sheriff Centre, at St James’ Church in West Hampstead, is smack-bang in the middle of the community. Fr Andrew leads this functioning church and as well as growing his congregation over the last few years, he has taken a dynamic approach and some decidedly entrepreneurial decisions, which means that the church is now also a successful community hub.
It also started a few years ago when the local post office was closing down. Fr Andrew felt that a post office is an important community resource and decided to take over the managing of the post office and run it in the church. So he made space for the post office and now, in addition, there is a café in one end of the church, soft play in another part and a gift shop too. There is still ample space for the congregation and one end of the church still feels very much like a church. It sounded strange to us and so we were blown away to see it in action and realise that it actually works. It created a paradigm shift the steering groups’ thinking and challenged ideas made up until this point about how Graylingwell Chapel would be used. Up until now, the idea had been to create another community space that could be hired out by groups and locals in Chichester, as is the case with The Lodge and the Community Hall. However, the downside is that Graylingwell Chapel is essentially ‘closed off’ and unless you are going to an organised event such as an orchestra practise or a pilates class, you miss the opportunity to visit Graylingwell Chapel. The Sheriff Centre showed a successful way to create a community hub. It has a very healthy annual turnover and is filled every day with the local community – people of all ages – who come to hang out, sit and have coffee, or work on laptops on the sofas, as well as parents and grandparents taking advantage of the very reasonable £2.50/hour soft play for the kids. The soft play also gives the Sheriff Centre a unique selling point and so is booked out for children’s parties at the weekends (at times, the chairs for the congregation are moved aside for 50 buggies)! The steering group also really liked the distinct zones, and the creative use of lighting to make each area feel separate. All in all they felt it was really nicely done and a dynamic answer to creating a well-used community hub.
The Wellcome Collection, part of the Wellcome Trust, explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. We were particularly interested to visit one of their exhibitions – Bedlam: the asylum and beyond – which focuses on Bethlem Royal Hospital in the days when it was representative of the worst excesses of asylums in the era of lunacy reform. The group’s main focus here was to look at the interpretation* of the asylum and gleam ideas for how Graylingwell Chapel’s history can be interpreted and displayed. The group rather liked the more simple solutions, such as spotlights on the wall that made smaller chunks of information ‘pop’ out at the visitor. We also really engaged with the 3D model which explores and reimagines how an asylum, in its original ideal as a place of sanctuary, refuge and care, should be like.
Upstairs, there was another exhibition which also had interesting ideas… such as a table for children that with drawers to pull out and discover heritage items, which looked fun and interactive.
It was love at first sight, however, in the Wellcome Library study area! Here the heritage items were integrated into the space: there were display cases on top of the book shelves, and next to pull out heritage drawers, there were board games and books. The space was incredibly well used without a feeling of congestion. In one smallish area, there were students doing group work, people reading, a heritage workshop for six people, and just beyond students with MacBooks flopped on massive cushions on the stairs. The atmosphere was calm, casual and welcoming. The group loved the idea of using heritage interpretation in an integrated way that gives you an opportunity to soak it up, whether you have come specifically to see it, or are simply using the space. We think this will work really well in Graylingwell Chapel… a community hub with different areas, where people simply come to be and yet benefit from a unique and historical environment.
The team walked away from this trip inspired, buzzing and with evolved ideas about the chapel and how it will play its part in the community.
*Heritage interpretation is the way information will be communicated to visitors to the chapel and includes defining the stories that will be told and developing of a structure to tell these narratives.