Church gift is anniversary boost for housing charity

A former church building in South Liverpool has been gifted to Housing People, Building Communities (HPBC) – the charity responsible for delivering low-cost homes in the Granby-Toxteth district of Liverpool.

The long-disused St Bernard’s Catholic Church in Kingsley Road, Toxteth, was gifted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool and  the charity has submitted a planning application to convert it into 11 residential units.

Under the plans there will also be four new-build, two-bedroom apartments and a two three-bedroom detached houses within the curtilage of the church site.

News comes as HPBC marks its 15th anniversary. The organisation officially launched on September 11 2001 – the first anniversary of the 9/11 Twin Towers tragedy – during a special ceremony of ‘harmony and conciliation’ on the balcony of the Liver Buildings.

Initially, the charity were given 2.2 acres of land in Toxteth for redevelopment. This summer, 32 new homes were unveiled.  The homes were built mostly by volunteers, including the future home owners themselves who accumulated more than 500 hours of labour in exchange for a reduction on the cost of their home.

This same self-build concept – known as ‘sweat equity’ – will be applied to the new project if the plans are approved.

The Most Rev Malcolm McMahon, Archbishop of Liverpool said: “Having seen what an excellent job HPBC has made of redeveloping the old school site next-door, the charity was the natural choice to take on this much loved church.  The building has been falling into disrepair and we can think of nothing better than to see it permanently preserved and brought back into vibrant use as part of a community-led, low cost housing development.”

Designed by Pugin & Pugin (sons of Augustus Pugin famous for designing the interior of Westminster Place), St Bernard’s Church was built in 1901 and is Gothic in style.

The Pugins were notable church architects and designed several other places of worship in Liverpool, including St Vincent de Paul in St James Street, Our Lady Immaculate in Everton and Our Lady of La Salette, in Vauxhall.

While not listed, St Bernard’s is one of the few surviving Victorian buildings on the street, a landmark in the area that has been ‘noted’ by Historic England.

Wirral-based architects Ainsley Gommon have made very few external changes and have endeavoured to retain the character and history of the building, though some features will need to be removed for practical purposes.

It is hoped that features such as stained glass windows will be retained, as well as the archways that formed the arcade of the nave. A stone turret in the front of the building creates an interesting spiral staircase in one of the planned townhouses.

Ainsley Gommon has also worked hard to ensure that wherever possible, large feature windows are not split by internal floors.

The architects and the charity have worked closely with planning and conservation officers from Liverpool City Council to create the plans.

A church hall annexe, which was a later addition to the church building, will be demolished to make way for a new detached house, but the neighbouring presbytery will remain. The presbytery is home to Rev Peter Morgan, who was the priest for St Bernard’s until the church closed in 2012, after the parish was combined with the parish of St Anne, in Edge Hill.

On seeing the plans, Father Peter commented: “What an extraordinary and imaginative design. This church building teemed with life for over 100 years. Now there will be new life, new energy – a new community.”

The proposed church properties are a combination of three and four-storey homes with two, three or four bedrooms. The smallest will be 79.7m2 and the largest 145.5m2. Most have designated parking and all have some outside space. Every property will be unique in its design.

The addition of a new-build detached house and four ‘cottage style’ apartments in two blocks brings the total number of properties to 16 and serves to make the church conversion economically viable.

Rev’d Dr Shannon Ledbetter, founder and chair of Housing People, Building Communities, said: “Since completing the last of our 32 homes on Alt Street we have been inundated with potential home partners wanting to know when we will have another project in the city.  Subject to receiving planning consent from the City Council, we will now be able to expand our vision for a diverse community built by and for the community.

“We are currently in advanced talks with a registered provider, with whom we would work in partnership to redevelop the site and create affordable new homes for shared ownership. Once again, our home partners would be involved in helping to shape the very homes they will live in and those of their neighbours. As well as opportunities to work on construction, home partners, volunteers and trainees can help us with marketing, administration and other tasks.

“We are so grateful to the Archdiocese and believe this project will be a lasting legacy to the common good for the people of Liverpool.”

Subject to securing the necessary planning consent HPBC hopes that development can commence in spring 2018 with building works expected to take around 14 months.

For more information about the charity see www.hpbc.org.uk

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