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Emmanuel Court

Why We're Solicitors For Developers With Vision12th May 2020

Churches hold a very special place in our hearts. We marry our soulmates there; we christen our children there. They are places like no other.

So when a church is demolished, it is more than an architectural tragedy. It is as if something has been torn from us. Lost forever, leaving only fading memories.

Sadly, we have witnessed this in Bournemouth. I can think of two once-proud churches that have been reduced to rubble and swept aside in the name of ‘progress’.

So when there is an opportunity to save church buildings, we are delighted to help – wherever they are in the country.

Deconsecrating a church and converting it sympathetically – in a way that finds favour with the community – can be a challenging and time-consuming project. It‘s fair to say that some developers would probably choose easier projects, given the chance.

But then Richard Hardy of Exeter-based Barley Manor Properties is a developer who looks beyond the raw numbers. He loves ecclesiastical architecture and is passionate about preserving it.

Barley Manor has 30 years’ experience in repairing, conserving and restoring ancient churches, ruins and other historic buildings. The company is a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The former Emmanuel Church in Exeter city centre is one such successful project. Barley Manor has successfully converted the 121-year-old building into nine beautiful character apartments after it finally closed its doors to worshippers in October 2014.

Richard Hardy and his team were able to preserve the future of this wonderful landmark building by sympathetically restoring the exterior and by retaining the character features of the interior.

Richard said: “During the works, great care was taken to make sure that none of the original fabric was damaged.

“This added greatly to the time that works took but it was important to show respect to the original building and the craftsmen that worked on it.

“Although the building is not that old in terms of church architecture, one day it will be and it’s important to retain exemplary architecture and craftmanship now, for the future.”

As my colleague Kate Samuel wrote when she saw the photos: “The finished project is breathtaking.”

Transforming the church into St Emmanuel’s Court meant getting all the important little details right. That included restoring the original gateposts to create a new driveway opening on Western Road. 

And reinstating the railings around the whole property. It hasn’t had railings since the 1940s when they were removed to help with the war effort!

Getting a cherry picker inside the former church to clean all the roof timbers, clerestory windows and high level stonework was not easy. But it afforded a wonderful close-up view of the hammerbeam roof.

Richard said: “There were lovely flourishes of craftsmanship that you could never see from the ground. But the carpenter who made them would know that they were there.”

Furthermore, the former church’s apex cross was unstable and required pinning with stainless steel bars bedded in resin. Challenging work but a lovely view from the top!

All the removed windows were saved – in particular the Scott window to commemorate Captain Scott’s polar expedition. It was sent off for permanent display at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge.

The war memorial has been retained as an important document of the sacrifices of the local community during the wars, as were other smaller memorials that reflect the stories of people who have worshipped and served the church in the past.

Here at Coles Miller, we are proud to have played our part by carrying out all the specialist legal work needed for property development. This included:

  • carrying out the due diligence and representing Barley Manor on the acquisition of the site
  • liaising with the Church of England during the complex deconsecration process
  • helping Barley Manor to implement the government’s Help to Buy scheme
  • working on the advance sales of the apartments during the restoration and conversion process
  • completing the sales.

Richard said: “As we specialise in unusual developments, we require a legal team that can deal with complicated site purchases, development finance, set up bespoke leasehold/freehold contracts, deal with the end sales and basically guide us through the legal issues of the whole development process. 

“Kerry, Amy, Kieran and Kate are always available for advice and prompt in replying to queries. They also keep pressing on behalf of the developer to keep the legal process moving, which is so important when time is of the essence. We would wholehearted recommend Coles Miller and would use no one else.”

Seven of the nine apartments have been sold. Just two remain available:

As you can probably tell by now, this project has a special place in our hearts. But what matters even more is how the local residents feel about it…

Richard said: “The feedback from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. They were sad that it would no longer be a place of worship but were glad that it would be brought back to life and have a purpose in the community again.”

Sharon Ewart (who married at Emmanuel Church, and whose boys were christened there) was delighted with Barley Manor’s achievement: “Congratulations and thank you for all your hard work, love and dedication. You've certainly rejuvenated this special building, it’s stunning.”

Words like that sum up how satisfying it is to be able to help developers with the vision and dedication to take on projects like this.

Find out more about how Coles Miller helps property developers to complete projects successfully. Contact Coles Miller Partner Kerry Houston-Kypta, head of the Commercial Property department.