Union Chapel have been granted a Round 1 Award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their project to deliver a world class and exciting space for contemporary community, arts and cultural use. They have appointed BFF as Designers and Conservation Architects, and we will be working with them to develop the Sunday School Stories project in more detail and as they carry out community consultation.
The Sunday School Hall, at the Grade I Listed Union Chapel is a hidden gem. Rarely seen by the public, its time for some TLC has finally come after years of urgent works focusing on the Chapel itself. The original roof has reached the end of its 140 year life, the brickwork is crumbling and the electrics and plumbing are in urgent need of upgrading. The project is an exciting one that will create more space at Union Chapel for contemporary community, arts and cultural uses but first it needs to be made safe and accessible
Union Chapel’s Sunday School Hall is a large, airy, double height space with a 3 sided wrap-around wrought iron balcony. The balcony is complete with original study booths and library. It is a space that combines simple grandeur and practicality – it was intended to cater for a wide range of activities, including classes for up to 180 children and families, sports, tea parties and bazaars.
The space is also home to books, papers and artefacts amassed since Union Chapel’s foundation in 1799. This collection is an untapped treasure trove of stories. It tells tales of nonconformists and their 100 year journey from persecuted minority to being part of the establishment. It tells of the increasing acceptance of their liberal values, which have helped shape our society. There’s more modern material documenting Union Chapel’s life as a venue, such as posters from the very first Big Chill nights and legendary events by the likes of Procal Harem, Patti Smith, The Moth and Emile Sande. But it’s also full of the everyday too, revealing insights into the lives of real local people and their ambitions for a better world.
As well as repairing the hall itself, Union Chapel wishes to conserve this collection to create an accessible archive. This project will create a mass of free skills based activities from conservation and archive skills to training in powerful public speaking – a skill of the activist leaders who helped found Union Chapel.
Most importantly though it will open up this little seen room and its collection for dedicated community use, cultural activity, ideas sharing and participative events – giving future generations the chance to create new stories of their own.