Welcome to the Empowering Design Practices  e-newsletter

Issue #1

In October 2014, we launched the collaborative research project,
Empowering Design Practices: historic places of worship as catalysts for connecting communities.

We are working with the guardians of historic places of worship to help explore creative ways to engage with their communities to develop more open and sustainable places that can respond to wider societal needs.

In the first year of the Empowering Design Practices (EDP) project, we have worked with people and places of worship across England, learning about their practices in transforming their historic buildings, the challenges they face and their aspirations for supporting their communities and enhancing local heritage.

Learning from the past

In this strand of the project, we set out to learn from successful examples of community-led initiatives to transform historic places of worship. As well as desk research, we've run workshops with communities and congregations in St Luke's Church Oxford, the Sheffield Buddhist Centre and St Martin's Bilborough in Nottingham. In these workshops, we worked with the groups to explore their spaces and to understand their perceptions and values regarding design, faith, heritage and community. We also worked with them to map the milestones and key assets of their community-led design journeys and extracted learning that could be useful for those at the beginning of a similar process of development. We'll visit many more groups for similar workshops in 2016.

New projects

A core element of the EDP project is to develop and evaluate ways to support the guardians of historic places of worship who are embarking on a project to adapt or restore their building, and who wish to engage their congregation and the wider community in this process. From Chester to Cornwall, we've been connecting with groups from the Christian (Methodist, Church of England, Roman Catholic and Quaker), Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths to explore their projects. We've started working with Bow Church in East London in their efforts to restore their historic church, and in November 2015, we brought together eight places of worship for a workshop at the striking Lumen United Reformed Church in central London. In the coming year, we will offer a range of hands-on support activities, including targetted support for individual projects and training and events for multiple projects.

Sharing learning

We are keen to extend our learning and create links with organisations and networks involved in supporting historic places of worship and community led design. We've met with officers from organisations such as Historic England, the Churches Conservation Trust and SPAB, and presented at conferences and events including the Connected Communities Heritage Network Symposium in Lincoln in January 2016. As the project continues, we will produce resources and training for architects, support officers and community members involved in this type of work. Read our blog to learn more about our work to date.

What's next?

We are planning a number of visits and workshops in January to March 2016, including: a visit to ISRAAC Somali Community and Cultural Association in Sheffield; a working day with the congregation and the core building group of Bow Church in East London; and a workshop with St Swithun's, Worcester, organised in collaboration with the Churches Conservation Trust.

Want to get involved?

Get in touch if you would like to suggest historic places of worship for our case studies or for support, or if want to share your expertise or learning. You can contact us via the project website, email us at or follow us on Twitter

About EDP

Empowering Design Practices: historic places of worship as catalysts for connecting communities is a five-year £1.5m research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Connected Communities and Design highlight notice.

It is a collaborative partnership between three Open University faculties (Maths, Computing and Technology, Arts, and the Institute of Educational Technology), Historic England (previously English Heritage), the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Glass-House Community Led Design. Additional professional support is provided by Wright and Wright Architects, Live Works and heritage consultant Becky Payne.
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