Gothic former church building gifted to housing charity

St Bernard's Church

A Liverpool-based housing charity has had the best anniversary present ever – the gift of the disused St Bernard’s Catholic Church in Kingsley Road, Toxteth, for conversion into new homes.

The former church building has been gifted to Housing People, Building Communities, 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 house within the curtilage of the church site.

The application has been submitted to Liverpool City Council in the same week that HPBC celebrated its 15th anniversary, having been launched on September 11, 2002 – 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.

At that time, the charity had been given 2.2 acres of land adjacent to St Bernard’s Church, again by the Archdiocese, and has recently finished developing 32 new homes using a combination of self-build, volunteering and corporate philanthropy.

This included home partners spending 500 hours helping to build their homes in return for a £10,000 contribution to their deposit.

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 Palace), 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 nevertheless one of the few surviving Victorian buildings on the street, a landmark in the area and has been “noted” by Historic England.

Wirral-based architects Ainsley Gommon have made very few external changes and have endeavoured to incorporate as much internal detail as they can, although many of the key interior features that were used in the building’s ecclesiastical function have already been removed including the altars.

It is hoped that remaining stained glass windows will be retained; the archways that formed the arcade of the nave will be expressed as features within the individual properties and 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 multi award-winning housing charity have worked closely with planning and conservation officers from the 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 and 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, where worship now takes place under his ministry.

After seeing the plans, Father Peter said: “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 857sq ft and the largest 1,566sq ft. 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. The new properties will reflect the external designs of the 32 homes that HPBC has previously developed on Kingsley Road and Alt Street.

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.

How the new development could look

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