Our vision for St Mary’s Church is to provide an inspiring, fully-useable and fit-for-purpose place for worship, music, and the arts to serve the community of Totnes, its surrounding district, and our thousands of visitors each year. Our aim is to enable the church to be a living, vibrant place, that meets the needs of all-comers, providing a place for prayer, worship and reflection, but also welcoming a wide variety of community events and activities with a special emphasis on musical events, performing arts and art displays. We will do that by improving the environment, making the building a light, warm, welcoming place, that is accessible to all those attending the church for services, as well as for community and visitor events. We are also seeking to make the upkeep of the church building more sustainable by broadening its use, and its community engagement, through seeking to accommodate a wider array of musical and arts events and performances.
A detailed, formal, inspection of the church by our architect in 2014 revealed that major repairs were urgently necessary to the fabric of the building. This relates particularly to repairs to high-level stonework on the tower and parapets, some of the north aisle window surrounds and the South Porch, as well as to the floor in the nave. The tower, being made of porous red sandstone, has suffered some significant decay over the decades. Additionally, the Victorian nave floor has developed many areas with cracked, loose and broken tiles with a growing number of areas where the tiles have ‘heaved.’ In 2015 the building was put on the Historic England Heritage at Risk register with a designation of “Condition – Poor”.
Structural repair plans
Recent funding grants have enabled us to scaffold the tower and selected other parts of the building, and work has begun on the stonework repairs, replacements and repointing that are so urgently required. The work is of a specialist nature, and we have commissioned Vitruvius Conservation to carry out the project. The pews in the church will later be completely removed to allow for the replacement of the whole of the nave floor. We also plan to construct additional catering facilities and toilet accommodation within the overall restoration plan.
St Mary’s is inhibited in its opportunities to expand and broaden its depth of worship and community activities by the rigidity and limitations of the furnishings, and also due to the lack of visitor facilities that match up to modern day standards and expectations. Further, due to the inadequate, and sometimes faulty, heating system, the church is often too cold in the winter months to comfortably accommodate events. This substantially reduces the usefulness of the building for worship and community engagement. The church also lacks any washroom or toilet facilities, or adequate catering facilities. The nearest option is a church hall approximately 100 metres away, with outside male and female toilets. This does not cater well either for people attending church services, or for an audience, for example, attending a classical concert. The lack of facilities also reduces the opportunities for extended use of the building by local schools.
In addition to our need for physical repairs, there is also a clear need to reorder the internal layout of the church to make it fit for purpose, to be able to serve Totnes far into the 21st century. While stately, the building lacks the fundamental comforts of modern life that people have come to expect. In its current state, the church is not particularly inviting to the wider community of Totnes and its surrounds.
To achieve our aspirations, we hope to:
Provide improved and flexible seating to accommodate a greater range of uses and events, however still in keeping with the heritage of the building.
Improve the amount and quality of lighting throughout the church, upgrading the electrical installation and replacing the outdated heating system.
Add facilities to allow for catering for large numbers of people attending major services and events.
Provide adequate, fully accessible toilets within the building.
Provide an adequate vestry and changing facilities for use by clergy, choir members and visiting performers.
Facilities re-ordering plans
St Mary’s Church has undertaken extensive research and consultation to establish what the real needs of both the church and community are and how heritage agencies may view the proposed changes. The community consultation events, so-far, have revealed:
Support for the need for sympathetic change and enhancement of the building, which would offer better facilities and improved accessibility.
A general consensus that the north aisle would be the best place for the provision of any new facilities.
An assessment that any improvements should include a dedicated refreshment servery area, improved heating, renewed flooring and warm lighting.
A desire for more space for concerts and performances.
A love for the church pews, and also an understanding of the restrictions they pose.
Strong support for increased sympathetic community use, in a way that does not prevent the church from fulfilling its primary role in Christian worship, and as a quiet sanctuary of peace and prayer.
Numerous design options for reordering the church have been considered by the
church and discussed with heritage bodies including Historic England, the Exeter
Diocesan Advisory Committee, the Victorian Society, the Church Buildings Council, the
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and South Hams District Council.