Wales’ church and chapel buildings are an amazing asset but are under increasing threat of loss. With 1 chapel per week and 10 churches per year closing in Wales, what can and should be done to preserve the precious artistic, social and cultural legacy that is held within their fabric? The ‘Conserving Welsh Chapels and Churches’ conference aimed to tackle these questions.
The conference was being organised through the ‘Heritage Construction in Wales (HECW) project which was funded by CITB and Cadw. As Carmarthenshire County Council were partners in the HECW project, some of the county’s innovative reuse of religious buildings were showcased.
This sell out event was held at the Ffwrnes, Llanelli which in itself is a great example of how religious buildings can be adapted with minimum impact on the important features of the buildings. Inspiration was be provided by Mathew Wittal-Williams who shared his experience of converting Zion Chapel into the impressive Carmarthen Cameras- the biggest camera shop in Wales. Architect Peter Holden spoke about 3 very different church projects including Hall Street Methodist Church in Llanelli and Dr Susan O’Connor, Director of Scottish Civic Trust shared how the problem has been tackled in Scotland.
Tina Andrews, Church Conservation and Support Manager for the Church in Wales set the scene of church closures and redundancies and Rob Schofield, Building Conservation Officer, Pembrokeshire County Council, explored historical significance in churches and how this can affect any proposed changes.
Not all redundant churches are suited to being adapted- Rachel Morley, Director of Friends of Friendless Churches discussed how historic churches should be better valued for their importance within the local community, craftsmanship and beauty in their own right. Oliver Coe and Thom Kinghorn-Evans of Coe Stone Ltd. conveyed the merits and methods of preventative maintenance in religious buildings that will greatly protect the historic fabric from decay and disrepair as well as delay costly repairs. Barry Eveleigh, architectural photographer, talked about the importance of preservation of the chapels and the issues that result in so many becoming redundant and derelict.
Workshops were held in the afternoon and will covered topics such as planning, conservation and archaeology provided by Edward Holland; the work of Addoldai Cymru and the Royal Commission; and traditional building skills and materials provided by Coe Stone Ltd.
The HECW project aimed to provide training, support and networking opportunities for the heritage construction industry throughout Wales. The project partners are Tree and Sons; Carmarthenshire County Council, Andrew Scott Ltd, Just Lime Ltd and the Welsh Traditional Buildings Forum. For further information please visit www.wtbf.co.uk