St James in the City handed back to Diocese

The Diocese's plan to transform the area of St James in the City took a step forward this week as the church was handed back by the Churches Conservation Trust

The Diocese of Liverpool’s £16m plan to transform the area of St James in the City, Toxteth, took a step forward on May 20th 2010.

Liverpool’s historic church St James in the City was returned to the Diocese of Liverpool following 29 years being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, the national charity that cares for historic churches at risk.

The handover is the culmination of years of planning with the Churches Conservation Trust to enable the Diocese to care for this nationally important building and bring it back into use as a vibrant family friendly church with new buildings and facilities to promote community and heritage-led regeneration in the area.

The handover ceremony took place with a short service at St James, Upper Parliament Street. Loyd Grossman, Chairman, The Churches Conservation Trust, The Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, Rev Neil Short, vicar of St James and a number of local dignitaries all attended.

St James, Toxteth, built in 1774-75 by Cuthbert Bisbrowne, is possibly the world’s earliest surviving example of cast iron supporting columns in a church. It is closely linked to Liverpool’s communities from West Africa, the Caribbean and America that settled in the city during this time – with many being baptised and buried at the church. The records and monuments of St James are evidence to the transatlantic migration, including Liverpool’s involvement in the slave trade, abolished in the UK in 1807.

The building, cared for and maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust since 1971, requires ongoing investment to maintain its fabric and sensitive modernisation to make it practical for today’s congregations and community. The Diocese of Liverpool’s plans seek to achieve this via a heritage led regeneration programme that preserves the building and provides new a new heritage destination for local people and visitors to the City.

The Diocese wants to develop St James in the City to

·   Provide a renewed building that provides a worship and auditorium space for 600 people and with room for exhibitions that reflect the significant history of the church and area.

·   Offer a multi purpose centre attached to the church to welcome visitors and enable the church community to grow and serve the local area and wider city

·   Transform the surrounding site, enhance and preserve the graveyard

·   Act as catalyst for a heritage regeneration plan for the neighbouring areas of Toxteth.

An anticipated cost for the church building, visitor centre, community facilities and garden area is approximately £16m. Work on the repair and restoration of the church building is expected to be complete by Feb 2013 with the entire project completed in 2015.

The Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool said “Re-opening a closed-down urban church is a powerful sign of a regenerating city and a confident church. St James is important to Liverpool's history and its future. Its Christian mission will combine the quest for personal faith and the thirst for social justice. Neil's leadership is forging a vital partnership that will lead to the renewal of this part of our city.”

Loyd Grossman, Chairman the Churches Conservation Trust said: “St James in the City is a historic church of global and national significance. We believe that historic churches should be protected for future generations by bringing them back into the heart of community use. The bold and exciting plans from the Dioceses of Liverpool do just this. We are delighted to be handing the church over to their care and look forward to the building once again filling with worship and becoming a transforming hub for the community.”

Rev Neil Short, vicar of St James in the City said “I am delighted that we are now owners of this marvellous and significant building. It provides a permanent home to grow our worshipping community and help us serve the wider people in this part of Toxteth.”

The Diocese of Liverpool is sourcing funding from a mix of grant income streams including Government; foundations; corporate interests; individual donors and development interests to realise its vision for the area.

The closure of St James in the City and its care

Plans to build a motorway close by St James in the City, forced the closure of the church in late 1960s. The motorway was never built and the church was put into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1971.

The Churches Conservation Trust undertook a considerable amount of restoration, repairs and modernisation work, including installing windows, to help start bringing the church back into community use. The Charity’s activity was complemented by Diocese of Liverpool which worked with local people to grow the local church community worshiping elsewhere, while plans for the building where developed with the support of the Churches Conservation Trust and the local St James’ friends group.