A building contractor has been appointed and work has started on site to build a community annexe and undertake modifications to St George’s Church in Fatfield, Washington.

The works, which have been part-funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and the Community Ownership Fund, will create a modern facility enabling greater numbers from the community to come together in a more accessible, flexible space.

With an overarching wish for the church to become closer to the heart of the community, award-winning architecture firm, Howarth Litchfield was appointed over four years ago to develop the plans after a competitive interview and because of its ecclesiastical experience.

The project has been evolving over a much longer period – in fact, since 1972, when the old church hall was set on fire and had to be demolished – and even then, there was a vision to replace it by building onto the church, as Howarth Litchfield director, Neil Turner, explains:

“There is a real need for new facilities in the area. Our brief was therefore to develop plans for a community café, providing space for people to meet with rooms for community use both during the day and for evening functions, including a regular youth club and other group activities.

“In April 2021, eight months after submitting the planning application, the formal plans were approved. However, with the well-publicised difficulties relating to the post-pandemic construction industry, such as the rising cost of materials and delays in their delivery, it was necessary in February this year to undertake a value engineering exercise to reduce costs and determine how the project could be phased while additional funding is sourced.”

Howarth Litchfield director, Dave Pickersgill, has worked on the project through its technical stages. He added:

“We are delighted to be working with Nick as this type of project is ideally suited to our experience. I am pleased to report that we have appointed T Manners Construction of Bishop Auckland to undertake the construction, a firm in which we have the utmost confidence.

“The facilities will be radically changed with new toilets, kitchens, storage, function rooms and offices with the creation of a modern single-storey annexe to contrast with the Victorian brick building. This new building will be constructed from metal and timber composite boards and has been designed as a low energy building, well-insulated to provide a warm, bright environment.”

Vicar of St George’s Church, Rev. Nick Barr Hamilton, appointed Howarth Litchfield. He said:

“We have been on a long journey since the hall burned down 51 years ago. Most people do not realise that the local church is funded entirely by gifts and payments from local people, so we are extremely grateful for a raft of generous donations from local individuals and trusts, including support from the Community Fund of the National Lottery. Additionally, we’ve received funding from the Government’s UK Shared Prosperity fund, which is central to its Levelling up Agenda, as well as the Government’s Community Ownership Fund.

“So often, it is the marginalised who need better facilities and support. The aim of this facility is to provide an opportunity for all to benefit within a beautiful new and contemporary building, which is in keeping with our old church building and where we can develop and expand on what already takes place at St George’s on a regular basis. With increasing concerns about the environment, ​our vision is that the building will be ecologically sound and energy-efficient, using sustainably sourced materials as far as possible.

“With a loan, and utilising reserves to cover any contingencies whilst we continue fundraising, we have appointed the contractor and the main Phase I works have begun. We are thankful to God for the skill of our professional team and for guiding us through the numerous difficulties we have faced in developing this complex project. Our goal now is to raise the remaining money to enable the full vision to come to fruition.”

The works are scheduled for completion in May 2024.