A neglected Grade II* listed Victorian church in Bolton, near Manchester, has been transformed into a new community centre that opens today (6 December), a project that the Churches Conservation Trust hopes will provide a model for England’s 200 other at-risk urban churches.
Built in 1881 by an Evangelical mill owner, All Souls, Bolton was once a hub for the local community of cotton industry workers – but as this industry declined sharply in the 20th century, its congregation dwindled, and the church finally closed in 1986. Neglected, vandalised, and plundered for its lead, the building fell into disrepair for two decades – but its fortunes have now been revived once more, with the new community building recently winning an English Heritage Angel Award for the Best Rescue of Any Other Type of Historic Building or Site.
Spearheaded by Manchester firm OMI Architects, the £4.9m transformation has seen the construction of two free-standing ‘pods’ inside the church, housing a coffee shop, restaurant, meeting and event spaces, and a centre for heritage learning.
New raised walkways also allow visitors to explore the historic building from above, with close-up views of its stained glass windows, war memorials, and unique timber roof.
Crispin Truman, Chief Executive of The Churches Conservation Trust, said: ‘“Urban churches like All Souls pose a particular challenge, as their size makes repairs expensive and finding sustainable new uses tricky. But when such important historic buildings sit unused and at risk we have a duty not only to save them, but also to help local people make use of them.’
The building is open from 9am-10pm daily, run by a new charity, the All Souls Bolton, and has a music and film license.
All images: Andy Marshall