All Souls Church regeneration ‘can inspire others to reclaim forgotten hubs of community’

The regeneration of All Souls Church into a social hub for Bolton should inspire other areas to restore disused historic buildings back as hearts of communities, according to those behind the project.

All Souls Church reopened last month following the completion of a £4.9million regeneration project.

The ambitious task to modernise the Grade II*-listed Victorian church has taken ten years to restore the building, which was originally built in 1881 but has been closed to the public in 1986.

The aim for Inayat Omarji, the Chair of All Souls, was to tackle anti-social behaviour surrounding the church such as drug use, alcohol abuse, graffiti and fly tipping to restore pride in the community.

Mr Omarji told MM: “This is a catalyst for me to make wider changes at All Souls and in the surrounding areas.”

Before it closed the church was facing a £1.5million repair bill and was receiving only two or three visitors a year.

But now the church has meeting and tenanted space for small businesses, a coffee shop, a history wall and a film and music licence.

“We wanted to make the building useful to every person in the community and sustainable in the long term,” said Mr Omarji.

“To survive in this austerity what you’ve got to create within the charitable sector is some sort of social enterprise.”

The project was managed by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), English Heritage and Bolton Council and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

After the project won an English Heritage Angel Award for The Best Rescue of Any Other Type of Historic Building or Site, the Churches Conservation Trust are hoping to repeat this success.

“They are looking at this regeneration as a way of educating others with similar buildings and similar catchments,” said Mr Omarji.

Tom Jones of The Churches Conservation Trust believes church buildings can be integral to the community.

“Historic churches were the original public buildings, and they continue to offer a central focus for the communities,” he said.

“They also tell the stories of the generations of people who have lived in the places where they stand.

“The All Souls Bolton project was led by our Regeneration Taskforce, which works to place historic churches at the heart of community-led regeneration, promoting new uses which engage and benefit their communities.”

Crispin Truman, the Chief Executive of The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “When an important urban church like All Souls lies unloved and in danger, we have a duty not only to save it, but also to bring it back into use at the heart of its community.”

Nick Berry from OMI Architects, who are part of the regeneration taskforce, added: “Respect for the original design of the church and its urban context has been key to the inspiration for the new design.”

During the reconstruction of All Souls the National Heritage Training Group funded paid training placements for six Bolton residents.

There are currently more than 200 of England’s listed inner city churches at risk of being closed down.

Main image courtesy of Google Maps, with thanks.

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