Pip and Jim light the way

30 May 2022

Diversifying to better serve the community.

Beautifully refurbished interior of the church with striking columns and archways

It’s been a long road, littered with bumps and potholes – but the reordering of St Philip and St James’ church in Cheltenham is finally finished and a great example of how a church has diversified and supported the local community.

It’s a triumph of vision, fundraising, and tireless hard work by volunteers, clergy, and congregation alike.

A decade ago a project board was formed to drive change and diversification at the stunning church – known affectionately as Pip and Jim’s – whose foundation stone was laid in 1838, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation.

The plan was to remove the old wooden pews, open up the space, and make it fit not only for worship but for use as a shared community space.

'We wanted a space that could be used seven days a week, not only by our worshipping congregation but also by our neighbourhood. For generations, churches have been at the heart of their local community and the investment which we have made in this building will ensure that this one will continue to be so for generations to come,' said David Mace, chair of the Reordering Project Board.

The giant project took over a year to complete. The space was cleared and rewired, state-of-the-art audio visuals were installed, improved lighting, and a new floor – polished limestone with underfloor heating. A servery, office, and meeting rooms were built, and a car park.

‘The area needed a larger community gathering place, and we felt the church could provide that. As we are all recovering from COVID and lockdowns, spaces like this are more important than ever,’ said David. ‘It’s taken lots of hard work, particularly from my fellow volunteers on the board, and many other people who have given their expertise, time, and energy.

‘We’ve had great support from a number of donors – the Benefact Trust among them – and invaluable advice and assistance from Ecclesiastical Insurance.

‘We now have a beautiful and flexible community space that can easily see a thousand people use it in a week, for everything from yoga and pilates classes to baroque music concerts, to beer festivals.

‘And of course, most importantly we have retained the church for its original purpose – we now have a shared space for creative worship which is enjoyed by over 200 people each week, and a space that is there for the flourishing community seven days a week. We’re already helping other churches who have their own plans and are asking how we went about it,’ he said.

‘It’s lovely to be able to help others in that way.’

Watering vine illustration