Transforming a building for social change

Here we have a guest blog from Graeme Warwood, a church warden at St Stephen’s Tonbridge, about the value of using a church building for the community.

St Stephens TonbridgeOver the course of the past 7 years the physical interior of St Stephen’s Church in Tonbridge has been completely transformed. From a church with crumbling ceiling, outdated electrics, poor lighting, uneven flooring, erratic
heating and very uncomfortable pews, the building interior has now been entirely updated. The project was finally completed earlier in 2013 with the installation of a new kitchen facility within the church itself.

One of the key objectives at the heart of the St Stephen’s church refurbishment vision back in the mid 2000’s was to see the church open for use throughout the week in different ways, and to welcome the community
and others in. This is now happening day in and day out, week in and week out through many different activities.

So what has been the result of removing the old church pews and broken
flooring and replacing with moveable & stackable chairs on a new solid oak
floor with under floor heating? Ultimately, it has meant the provision of an
incredible environment providing complete flexibility, allowing the facility to be
used in so many different ways and layout combinations. It has also meant
that the building is now completely ‘disabled’ friendly with step free access
into the facility itself and provides a smooth & level main floor area and new
lift to the chancel.
dads and toddlers

One use being made of this amazing space is the Dads & Toddlers group, which meets once a month on a Saturday morning. Removing all 400 chairs
(a 20 minute job stacking onto just 4 trolleys) and putting out a bouncy castle, ride on toys, a roller coaster, toy railway, play dough and craft table sets the environment and then serving the Dads good quality coffee and bacon rolls seems to tick all of the boxes! We regularly attract a crowd of up to 100 with a large number having no other involvement with our church. The combination of Dads having quality time with their children whilst having the opportunity to chat with other Dads in the same situation in a very relaxed environment
works so well.

Despite the major refurbishment work undertaken, this remains first and
foremost a church – a place of worship. For the past 150 years, people have
come into this building to collectively worship and it is the desire of the current
congregation to leave a legacy, which will enable it to be worshiped in for
another 100 years whilst providing the community with a focal meeting place –
somewhere everyone can call their church.

Graeme Warwood
Church Warden & Dads & Toddler Team Leader
St Stephen’s Church – May 2013

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About Livability Community Engagement

Part of Livability, a national Christian disability and community engagement charity. We are an enabling network, tackling barriers in society to make community livable.
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