HMDW and Maguire Brothers breathe new life into derelict church

Images copyright HMDW Architects

Driven to see projects through from paper to reality, including the use of specific building materials in many cases, we explore how architecture firm, HMDW Architects, directed building contractor, Maguire Brothers, to Insulation Superstore. With insulation essential to breathing new life into a derelict Victorian church, and the need for a sympathetic material to keep the interior warm whilst reducing the carbon footprint, hemp was the natural choice.

Church saved by community

Situated within the Acton Green Conservation Area, St Alban’s Church is a Victorian red brick building in a prominent position on the northern edge of Acton Green Common in Chiswick, London. Standing derelict for eight years, planning permission to convert the interior of the church into nine residential apartments was sought and ultimately denied in March 2013 following a determined campaign by local people to preserve the church for community use and spiritual life.

Playing regular host to toddler clubs, barn dances, lectures, plays and concerts, council meetings and much more, the church has a multigenerational appeal with hundreds attending larger events, and a regular congregation ranging between 50 and 95 adults and children.

Love thy neighbour

Richard Moy, the vicar at neighbouring Christ Church, Turnham Green, called upon his congregation to back the project to relaunch St Alban’s, acting in response to its own rising church attendance and calls to see the church given new life. By appealing to congregations at Christ Church and St Alban’s, almost £500,000 was raised via MyDonate to pay for St Alban’s building refurbishments. The target is to raise at least £610,000 via ongoing donations, grant and trust fund applications and appeals to the wider community.

Reverend Mike Tufnell was given responsibility for the St Alban’s site, helping to develop a new congregation that, with the restored church as its missional home, becomes the beating heart of the community. St Alban’s, incorporating Christ Church Turnham Green and The Mission Hall on Cunnington Street, are now collectively known as Christ Church W4 (CCW4).

From September 2014 the congregation has been able to come together again for Sunday services, albeit under a large tent since building work commenced. In fact, the congregation appeared on the BBC’s Songs of Praise earlier this year (February 2016).

Healing hands

Identified as an important landmark building and focal point, refurbishment works first began on the church in February 2016. Winning the contract to restore the entire building, Maguire Brothers is a family business that has been trading for nearly 40 years, carrying out work throughout London and the Home Counties. A contractor specialising in all types of roofing and external work, Maguire Brothers has a wealth of experience when it comes to refurbishing churches, pubs and other heritage sites. The contractor has also worked for the royal household, installing new lead coverings to the castle turrets at Windsor Castle. Working together with HMDW, a firm of architects that prides itself on working sympathetically with important historical buildings, the church is in now in healing hands.

Giving U-value to the church

One of the biggest issues faced by St Alban’s church was its poor thermal performance due to lack of insulation. Thermal performance is measured in terms of heat loss, and is commonly expressed in the construction industry as a U-value. All insulation products have a U-value that measures how effective a material is as an insulator. The lower the U-value is, the better the material is as a heat insulator.

Rory Maguire, partner at Maguire Brothers, explains: “The church was in dire need of more insulation and our primary job was to improve the U-value by creating what we call in the construction industry a ‘cold roof’. The hemp insulation is located between timber rafters and its great insulation properties allow a thin layer to provide a higher U-value whilst also allowing a gap for air flow and ventilation above, thus preventing condensation.”

Returning to the flock

Directed to Insulation Superstore by HMDW, Maguire Brothers ordered around 1000 Sq m of hemp insulation, Thermafleece NatraHemp. Hemp is a fast-growing, low-impact plant crop that produces fine fibres suitable for insulation. It is a safe, efficient and durable material that can provide good acoustic as well as thermal insulation. Because it is harmless (not irritating to the skin, eyes or respiratory tract) it can be installed without gloves or protective clothing. Fitting securely in the available gap in the church rafters, the hemp provides excellent thermal insulation.

Nicholas Weedon, director at HMDW, said: “As architects specialising in the sympathetic restoration of historical and heritage buildings, it’s important for us to see any project through from paper to reality. With a traditional construction such as St Alban’s church, it is essential that breathable materials be used for insulation. With this in mind, we were particular about the product specified and directed Maguire Brothers to Insulation Superstore.”

Maguire Brothers buyer Adam Garnier, no stranger to shopping for construction materials online, commented: “With a wide range of stock there’s far greater choice to be found online, prices are often lower and delivery quicker. Insulation Superstore had the exact product we needed, it arrived about 5 days after ordering as it came direct from the manufacturer, and it worked out cheaper than other suppliers. The brand has a user-friendly site and excellent customer service. The representatives helped to process our order and there was always someone available to answer any questions we had related to the product and its installation. Although this was our first experience of buying construction materials with Insulation Superstore we would definitely use the site again.”

Giving back to the community

Insulation was just the beginning when it came to restoring St Alban’s church. Maguire Brothers was responsible for carrying out timber repairs both inside and out, replacing some of the glass in the beautiful stain glassed windows and the old cast iron crosses with new.

The contractor has replaced coping stones, installed lightning conductors, and bird boxes have been fitted in the eaves of the church to encourage swifts to nest. Maguire Brothers is now installing a new roof using Welsh slates. As an alternative to a time capsule, St Alban’s congregation has written prayers and quotes on 100 slates and Reverend Mike Tufnell said prayers on the roof.

Commenting on the church’s restoration, Reverend Mike Tufnell, said: “We feel called by God and inspired by the vision to see St Alban’s come back to life as the beating heart of this community, creating a space where everyone in the area has the opportunity to meet God, make friends and learn to live life better.”

St Alban’s is also being fitted with brand new 110m solar panels on the south elevation. The power generated will not only be used in the church but also help to generate a small income by selling energy back to the grid. Reverend Mike added: “As the roof is repaired, and solar tiles incorporated into that, it is a very powerful, visible message in the community that St Alban’s is here to stay. It is also a symbol of the wider truth that church attendance in London is in fact growing and people are finding fresh life and hope in the Christian message.”

The church still needs to be weather-proofed but building works are due for completion in summer 2016.

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