This a particularly opportune time for the creation of a shared space in St Stephen’s Church.
Use of church buildings in the 21st century
The Church of England is currently seeking ways to support shared use of its buildings and is especially keen to embrace a project which promotes access for all and provides the opportunity for the building to be shared with the wider community while remaining a consecrated church. In 1973, the Parish of Central Exeter was among the first to commit itself to a policy of ‘open access’. This was extended to ‘access for all’ in 2008 with emphasis on those experiencing mobility, sight, or hearing difficulty.
City centre regeneration
A full-scale programme of regeneration and rebuilding in the city centre has recently been completed adjacent to St Stephen’s. This regeneration is focussed primarily on commercial and shopping activities and will be complemented by the presence of a building specifically designed to contribute to a traditional sense of community support in this historic city. Such an opportunity is unlikely to occur again in the foreseeable future.
St Stephen’s, with its prime location on the High Street in the midst of the busy shopping and business area of the city, provides a unique opportunity for the creation and maintenance of a centre which supports community life, in all its richness, in the city centre. This high profile site, with thousands of pedestrians passing its front door each day and with its attendant opportunity for advertising and publicity, is ideally placed to promote public awareness of activities and events which complement the commercial activity which surrounds it.
Committed church members
Parish of Central Exeter members are totally committed to further develop and support the community activities it has promoted and encouraged over the last four decades. There exists a strong willingness to accept the changes likely to be required as an ‘access for all’ policy is adopted.
St Stephen’s from Catherine Square
Wide support for the Project
The first four years of the Project were largely taken up with the widest possible consultations concerning the proposed changes in St Stephen’s. These ranged from surveys among church members and those sharing use of the building, to detailed discussions with advisory bodies such as The Council for the Care of Churches, the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, the Georgian Society, the Diocese of Exeter, Exeter City Council, Exeter Archaeology and English Heritage. Three rounds of consultations took place concerning the commissioned design proposals and refinements to these proposals were agreed. To demonstrate the support of the Exeter community, the Lord Mayor of Exeter, the Bishop of Exeter and Exeter’s Member of Parliament agreed to become Patrons of the Project.
Government backing for the voluntary sector
The Government has highlighted the importance of the voluntary sector in enabling and encouraging individuals to participate more fully in their local communities. The St Stephen’s Project is closely identified with the concept of community involvement and support by, and among, Exeter citizens. The proposal to provide detailed support for those in the community who experience hearing, sight or mobility difficulty is a natural development of this voluntary interest and support.