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Church conversion

Shotley Bridge Methodist Church dates from 1892. The church is robust and well-constructed.  It is an attractive building with a large worship space accessed via a stone stair, accessed directly off Front Street.

The building is located in the Shotley Bridge Conservation Area.  Church buildings on this nature are difficult to convert to residential use in a cost-effective manner. We worked with the client to overcoming problems of parking, accessibility and fire safety, converting a difficult heritage site into a large family home.

The project was extremely cost effective to build, given the careful consideration at design stage to innovative design solutions to minimise disruption and fast track construction.

The conversion to a 5 bedroom house preserves the main character of the original church in its surroundings; a key planning requirement and design constraint.

Carvell Associates worked closely with the client, planners, conservation officers and Durham Building Control to provide a family home in the heart of Shotley bridge, retaining much of the character of the original church building that is very much part of the village’s heritage.

Learning from the past.


The building is an unusual example of church design in the gothic revival.  Despite its traditional appearance externally, the church breaks with traditional church construction.  The solution demonstrates the Victorians approach to problems encountered in church construction, typically where a large roof span is required.

The construction of the large roof is adapted from modern construction techniques pioneered in 19th Century industrial buildings; steel tension ties support the elegant timber roof structure.

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Overcoming design problems


The site falls over 5 metres in total from front to back.  The church is built on a split level to address site levels; the congregation area accessed of the front street whilst the meeting rooms have a rear access door leading to the back lane.  The 2 key spaces are linked internally by way of an ornate stone arch.  This arch was retained and now forms the centrepiece of the design.  There are smaller ancillary spaces off the main congregation space and the meeting room.



Because of the changes in level it was decided to access the property directly to the kitchen from the driveway to the rear. The entrance leads directly into the kitchen and stairs.  The kitchen operates as a mezzanine, linking the lower Ground floor with the First floor, built into the roof. This circulation strategy considerably reduces the number of stairs and individual staircases, limiting level changes in the design. All key living areas are located directly off the stairwell, including WC, utility, garage and master bedroom. 

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Circulation space and fire safety

Like all homes in Britain, Church conversions have to comply with fire safety requirements. The converted church has a single new staircase linking all levels, open plan with the kitchen; this is unusual for such a large property. We arrived at a workable solution by working with Building Control at an early stage to ensure compliance without the requirement for a fire suppression system, providing a means of escape from all bedrooms via escape Velux rooflights.  Given the eaves heights on a sloping site we made sure we discussed this issue with Building Control at the outset, before committing to the design of the First Floor layout at planning stages.


Church conversions can suffer from being rather dark, given the nature of the buildings. Shotley Church is no exception, with a wide internal space and narrow gothic windows.  Planning constraints limited external opening to a bare minimum. We looked to maximise natural day-lighting on the project.  Given much of the stained glass was to remain we had to find alternative solutions.

Roof-lights provided the natural solution for this conversion project, without the need to demolition the thick masonry walls. The stairwell provides much needed light into the heart of the building down to the kitchen area. Roof lights were carefully considered externally; positioned in a series of linear patterns when viewed from outside, not only providing light and ventilation but providing a secondary means of escape for all bedrooms.  When viewed from the surrounding village the church remains largely unchanged, with the exception of the entrance area to the rear.

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Retaining the original building fabric.

Church conversion to residential is seldom a straightforward process; this site was no exception.  The original church building has been well maintained and was in excellent condition, despite standing empty for several years. .Retaining much of the existing fabric of the church avoided extensive demolition.  It also allowed for safe storage on site for the duration of the work.

Most of the work consisted of dry trades, eliminating reliance on concrete, screed or parge-coat plasters.  Timber was used extensively in the build (with only limited reliance on steelwork it critical places). 

Specifying the use of engineered timber I joists floor system (providing a large span and service void floor) provided intermediate floors efficiently and at low cost. The Ground Floor of the main congregation space had been built to a gradient to allow for views of the altar.  The original Ground floor was levelled and raised to reduce the ceiling height on the Ground floor. This also helped keep level changes across the site to a minimum.

raising this floor provided an access/service space below the church for services and storage. The innovative timber I-beam floor provided an opportunity to insulate between joists without the need for expensive screeds or concrete. This solution made best use of the existing sub-floor ventilation and damp-course, still in a good state of repair, having been well detailed at the outset.
were secondary glazed or glazed with double glazed units.

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The original roof structure remains, including the steel tie bars that form part of the feature trusses in the main spaces.  Engineered floor joists were laid parallel to the steel tie bars integral to the roof structure; limiting any costly disturbance of the existing structure. This approach ensured a cost-effective design without the need for additional engineering solutions.

Vertical circulation was rationalised with a single staircase located in the optimum position in the church adjacent to the natural level change. This avoiding the requirement for 2-3 stairs in different locations which would have resulted in a confused design with inefficient circulation space.

An insulated timber frame was erected around the internal perimeter wall of the building to improve thermal performance. This frame in turn provided a perimeter structure for the new First floor without the need to provide additional support. New suspended timber floors were also insulated. All existing windows were secondary glazed or glazed with double glazed units.

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