In the 1970s, with the help of the church authorities who gave us long leases at peppercorn rents, the York Civic Trust embarked on an ambitious project to find new uses for five redundant churches. These buildings are important landmarks in the makeup of York’s streetscape and they need to be occupied and cared for, to preserve them for the future. A former chairman of York Civic Trust, John Shannon, was inspirational in his quest.

The most successful restoration is St. Margaret’s on Walmgate, now home to the internationally renowned National Centre for Early Music (NCEM). We gave the Centre the remainder of the long lease plus a commitment to restore the Norman porch, and this contributed towards a £1.9m lottery funded restoration. The project won awards from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (2001) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (2002).  The Centre now plays a major role in the musical and cultural life of the city. We were pleased to have played a part in making this happen. Click here to find out more about the NCEM and its archive about the York Mystery Plays.
Here is how the NCEM Trustees describe the beginning of the project:
“As long ago as 1975, the York Civic Trust had taken over five redundant churches from the Diocesan Board of Finance, with a view to putting them to appropriate uses. They were let on 99-year leases, with an option for extension, at a peppercorn rent and with minimal repairing obligations. One church became an archaeological resource centre, and another a meeting place and activity centre for older citizens, and so on. St Margaret’s, Walmgate, however, was no more than a props store for York Theatre Royal. The Civic Trust accordingly invited the York Early Music Foundation Trustees in 1995 to consider the church as a possible site for the development of their activities. The Trustees had not been looking for premises, and in that sense the solution preceded the problem; on the other hand the Civic Trust’s offer opened up new possibilities for the Foundation to enhance its embryonic programme in ways that had not previously been envisaged.”

Another such church taken over by the Civic Trust,, St. Sampson’s, is now a hugely popular drop-in centre for the over-60s. Also, St. Mary’s on Castlegate, which was originally home for a Heritage Centre, is now used for contemporary exhibitions, and other churches function as charming tearooms or restaurants.