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A Broad Church, Danesmoor, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 14:31 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Five years determined effort by the people of Danesmoor, near Clay Cross, finally resulted in the opening of the new St Barnabas Centre.

Tears were shed when Natascha Engel MP opened the brand new St Barnabas' Centre in the village of Danesmoor, near Clay Cross. It was a show of emotion that was entirely understandable, because the completion of this landmark building, which is bold in design and multi-functional in purpose, would never have come about without the persistence and hard work of a group of local people over a five-year period. Revd Matthew Barnes, who is chairman of the group, likened the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon at the opening to 'crossing the finishing line after running a marathon'.

Eight years ago, when Matthew first became the vicar of St Barnabas' Church, the people of this former mining village were reeling from a succession of cruel blows. Every attempt to regenerate vital services and to address the need for improved social facilities had failed miserably; a private funding initiative to re-build local homes had hit the buffers while the occupants were being temporarily re-housed elsewhere and the sudden closure of Bywaters' pipeworks had led to the disappearance of 500 jobs in one single morning.

The poor condition of Matthew's church building was a metaphor for the sorry state of affairs in the parish as a whole. Its only source of running water was a cold-water standpipe in the vestry and the toilets were housed in an adjacent church hall, which was little more than an asbestos hut, but was in daily use by a pre-school group. Other groups, such as the St John's Ambulance volunteers, the Darby and Joan Club, the Tenants' Association and the Baby and Toddler Group, were also crying out for better facilities.

As Matthew put it to me, Danesmoor was badly in need of 'a new church and a purpose-built centre in which the local community could flourish through mutual support and shared skills - in short, a facility that could make the village whole again'. Having given up his job as a systems analyst in order to make a 'broader, more meaningful contribution to society through the church', Matthew was determined to help the villagers in their quest for proper facilities. He was aided by a management committee composed of local people who were prepared to put the disappointments of the past behind them and do everything in their power to achieve their aim.

After a feasibility study, the committee hatched a plan to replace the old church and hall with a single multi-purpose building, which would include a new church, community facilities and pre-school provision all under one roof. Knowing that a sum well in excess of a million pounds would be needed to realise the project, they approached every possible funding body they could think of.

Desperation set in after three years of begging and bidding, because only half the necessary money had been raised. Natascha Engel did her best to help at this critical stage by calling a round-table meeting of potential funders, but it took another twelve months to secure the capital for a scheme that had to be slightly down-sized to make the costs more manageable. Baggeleys, the main contractors, were finally given the go-ahead to begin demolition of the old church and hall in January 2007 and they then began constructing the new centre, which was project managed by Jackson Design Associates and was completed in November 2007.

The design of the centre is the work of Anthony Short and Partners of Ashbourne, a practice with broad experience of church architecture, whether it be new-build, renovation, extension or re-ordering. In the early days of the project, their architects Mark Parsons and Sylvia Harris came up with alternative design options, one traditional and one modern, but the management committee decided to go for an up-to-the-minute design that would be a symbol of a newly energised Danesmoor.

I was taken on a tour of the centre by Sylvia Harris, who was responsible for the detailed design work. We began by inspecting the exterior, which is faced in attractive, pale-yellow brick. Although various modules make up the building, they combine to make a unified whole because they are covered by a common roof, which projects in a confident, thrusting manner over the walls of the faade, but slopes down at the rear of the building to a modest height that is compatible with that of the bungalows on the edge of the church grounds.

The roof is fitted with skylights that bring natural light into the building, which is self-ventilated, fitted with carpets made from re-cycled material and warmed by under-floor heating. As well as including these environmentally-friendly elements, Sylvia has ensured that there is a friendly welcome for visitors and users, who enter via a reception area that is bright and airy.

The reception area leads to the main hall, which is a large, perfectly square room. One wall is covered by a climbing wall, while a second wall is fronted by a dais that supports a drum-kit and a key-board, plus amplifiers and all the other paraphernalia associated with a rock group. In one corner, there is a trendy caf bar, complete with beer pumps and a split-level serving hatch suitable for use by both able-bodied and disabled people. In fact, the only tell-tales signs that this multi-functional room serves as the new church are a portable cross and lectern, a traditional stained glass window depicting St Barnabas, which was salvaged from the old church, and two modern stained-glass lancet windows designed by David Pilkington.

Because Matthew is keen for the room to welcome people of all faiths, as well as non-believers, David's windows do not have an overtly Christian message, but they make subtle reference to religious themes. One is a kaleidoscope of colour inspired by the choral work Lux Aeterna by Ligeti, which uses a crescendo of sound to depict Eternal Light; the other is a reference to the First Pentecost, with blue panes symbolising Heaven and semi-abstract doves representing the Holy Spirit.

This square room is the venue for church services which, in the terminology of the young, are decidedly not 'square', but 'cool'. Matthew's inclusion of music by a local band called Fire Fly has massively increased the size of his congregation and lowered its age profile, and his insistence that the longitudinal geometry of the old church should be replaced by a square arrangement has made services much more intimate. Although the beer pumps are retracted during the act of worship, Matthew is happy for his services to begin with coffee and end with beer. In fact, 'pint and prayer services' were held in the local pub while building work took place.

After taking me up on to the roof of the building, with its aluminium cladding, cleverly positioned skylights and aesthetically-pleasing slope, Sylvia showed me the pre-school room. In marked contrast to the square 'church', this space is decidedly longitudinal, as requested by pre-school group manager Margaret Smart and deputy officer Angie Stone, who have been accustomed to working in a similarly shaped room in the old church hall. They are absolutely delighted with their new home, which has ample space for many different activities, a configuration that encourages the children to mix, superb kitchen facilities and the brightest, most cheerful cloakroom, washroom and toilet facilities you are ever likely to see.

Angie began working as a volunteer 22 years ago, when her three-year-old daughter joined the pre-school group. Margaret recalls that when she first volunteered, 24 years ago, she would leave her infant daughter in capable hands in a corner of the room while she worked. Her daughter is now one of 13 members of staff who work at the nursery, which takes 55 children and is open five days per week.

Margaret and Angie, who both used to be churchwardens, are key members of the management group that has worked so hard to obtain the new facilities. Needless to say, they were among those who shed tears at the official opening, especially during a performance by local primary school children. Wiping away her tears of joy and relief, Margaret Smart said: 'The pre-school has been caring for the children of Danesmoor for 30 years. It's fantastic that we now have a twenty-first century facility to offer them so that they can have the very best start in life.'

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