A new church is a commission that is both rare and a real challenge to the architect and team. Harwood Methodist Church is a project that demonstrated how a good client is not always one with the deepest pockets – here it was faith in their mission and unswerving trust in their design team that delivered something special.
Our involvement in this project dates back to 2010 when we developed the first phase of the project, converting the old chapel into a multi-use community hall in 2011. The main project has been an interesting and often frustrating journey, but one with which the client has placed considerable trust in the team to get them to where they needed to be. The sale of several plots of land, heroic fund raising efforts and generous donations enabled the client to begin work in early 2020. Although the main works were delayed as a result of the global pandemic, progress continued steadily on site, always with a careful eye on a finite budget.
The concept behind the building is rooted in the tradition of UK Methodist architecture – early Methodist chapels were sometimes disguised as dwellings. Here we wanted a form that continued the almost unbroken line of existing terraced housing, but then stepped up to both express the worship space as well as link to the former chapel adjacent.
The budget was carefully managed throughout with an emphasis on elements that reflected quiet dignity and generosity of the congregation. The main worship space is entered from a generous entrance hall that houses the baptism font in a prominent central position, a theologically important element of Methodism. Tall doors into the Church provide a sense of drama but also represent the importance and sanctity of the space. Transparency of this main place of worship was a key part of the brief and although curtains can be deployed for private services the views to and from the space are expansive. With this transparency comes an abundance of natural light that together with the raised volume of the space give it the transcendence needed for it to feel “special”.
The worship area can hold up to 250 people in a variety of configurations. It uses the latest AV technology to assist sermons and presentations, with a sound system that supports the growing use of band music during regular worship (alongside the more traditional sounding stage keyboard/organ).
A height adjustable lectern sits alongside a simple yet elegant communion table – the emphasis here reflects the understated, practical nature of Methodist worship – everything here has a practical function but there is also a link to tradition.
The building also answers another key part of the brief – the provision of flexible and practical spaces for Church and community use. A cafe space links directly into the worship area with a well-appointed community kitchen serving this and a large community hall – a space deliberately left without decorative effects to provide a backdrop to a range of functions and events. Flexible conference rooms facing the main road are a vital resource but also reveal activity within the building at different times of the day.
The dedication service on 9th July 2021 was a happy and emotional day for all those involved with the project – a client, design and construction team that worked together in a positive way to deliver a building that we hope will be a valuable resource for the Church and wider community of Harwood for many years to come.
Architect / Lead Designer / Contract Administrator: Ellis Williams Architects
Client: Harwood Methodist Church, Bolton
Main Contractor: Ellenby Construction
Client’s Agent: Andrew Collier
Structural Engineer: AJP Consulting Engineers
Services Engineer: DBD Consulting / Barlow Electrical / Walker Adamson
Quantity Surveyor: CJ & Associates
PD Support: Lucion Consulting
Building Control: London Building Control
Photography: Paul McMullin Architecture & Project Photographer