Emerging from the Covid pandemic, in Autumn 2021 Heritage Lottery informed the Legacy Project Committee that new large projects were unlikely to receive support. They advised us to complete a Community Audit and a Feasibility Study. The budget for this work was £17,500, an amount St Matthew’s could not afford in addition to the expenses associated with maintaining a heritage building. Consequently a round of grant applications was made and we received funding from Heritage Lottery, The National Churches Trust and the Lichfield Diocese Community Fund, which covered all our costs.
Consultation was carried out between February and May, though the last report was not ready until September 2022. The work represents a substantial milestone towards achieving the Legacy Project Vision. It also opens the way for fundraising towards major repairs, reordering, seven-day opening and a full programme of events through the week. Work to secure substantial funding seems likely to take a year, possibly more, but there is increasing momentum to suggest major building work will begin in 2024.
In the absence of major funding towards building works, we still make what progress we can. In the last year:
Thank you for your continued interest in the Legacy Project.
St Matthew’s Church, Walsall has been awarded three grants totaling £16,500 to fund a Feasibility Study.
The Study will look at developing the building for community use – as a visitor destination with a café, a Walsall heritage experience, Mums and Toddlers, history tours and exhibition/performance space. These ideas form part of the much larger “Legacy Project”, a vision to repair and reimagine what the 800-year-old church can be for the next 200 years as it heads towards 1,000 years of history.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the National Churches Trust and the Lichfield Diocese Community Fund have awarded the grants because they recognise the importance of the work which will generate ideas about future uses of the church building. It will run from February to May this year. Community consultation about options and proposals will begin in March.
Rector Jim Trood said “We have achieved an important milestone towards a bright future for the building and all that it means for the people of Walsall. We are very aware that so many people love this church and have special memories of it. Combining an important heritage, magnificent appearance, location, and outstanding acoustics, it really is an inspirational building, the very best place for celebrations, performance, award ceremonies and school assemblies – as well as being a busy Place of Worship. The building is a beacon of peace and hope for all the communities in Walsall.”
Dr John Edlin, Chair of the Legacy Project Committee, said: “The Study will not repair a single window, nor will it fix the roof or drains – that is ongoing work which we still need to fund. But it is a huge step forward. We look forward to working with interested parties who want to contribute to Walsall’s most important heritage asset and we are very grateful for the strong message of support from Mayor Rose Burley posted on Facebook.”
The Legacy Project is a plan to repair and reimagine the church’s use for the next 100 years. This note provides an update of progress towards the Legacy Project since last year.
Covid looks likely to delay the Legacy Project for at least two years. Not only was our Expression of Interest towards the £4.5 million project withdrawn by Heritage Lottery early in 2020, but new funding priorities have moved away from previous heritage criteria and towards inclusion, economy, wellbeing, local area, skills and organisational resilience. The fact that the St Matthew’s community is still in a strong position is testament to its ability to adjust rapidly to changing circumstances. The church’s action plan for the next five years has building and community as a core component.. So, in spite of difficult circumstances, we are making progress, having received a number of small grants and some business sponsorship. We have
installed business broadband and now livestream events to congregations, ceremonies, school events and to support Wolverhampton University courses
run a crowdfunding campaign called “Safer St Matthew’s” (following the theft of lead and two fires which caused significant damage) for new security lighting and CCTV
three young people on the government’s Kickstart programme, one specifically working on heritage repair/improvement of the churchyard and the building
made a valuable contribution within the local community through shopping for people isolating, networks of phone calls, donations to food banks, delivering prescriptions and similar voluntary work, typically 15,000 hours per year
continued voluntary work throughout the Church Hill Conservation Area, litter picking and making environmental improvements .
Work on developing St Matthew’s as the focus of a Heritage Area for the town continues – there are exciting opportunities: for example, we look forward to working with Ben Parker on Walsall Council’s new Heritage Forum. That said, the Legacy Project is huge and was always expected to take at least 5 years to complete. Our next significant milestone is to commission a Feasibility Study, putting the Legacy Project bids for funding on a professional footing: we currently hold one grant offer towards this and expect the rest of the funding for this to be in place before the end of the year.
In September last year, St Matthew’s Church launched its “Legacy Project”, a vision for the future of St Matthew’s as a building and the way in which it can serve the people of Walsall.
In January 2020, the Church Council and its Legacy Project Committee were successful in getting through the first step in the Heritage Lottery (HL) funding process with a successful Expression of Interest for work totalling £4.5 million, to include all the repair work required to windows, roof and re-ordering/refurbishment of the ground floor of the building. In addition, a substantial part of the funding was for two people to be employed enabling the church to be open throughout the week and for heritage/education visits to be supported. That does NOT mean we have got some money at this stage! – merely that the funding body sees merit in the idea and would like to see the idea developed. HL is keen to see the idea of a performance venue and a heritage site for Walsall come to fruition, linked to education and training. Unfortunately at the end of March, all Expression of Interest stage applications were withdrawn due to the Covid-19 emergency, so unfortunately we will have to begin the process again when HL funding reopens, possibly early next year.
When we submit a new Expression of Interest, it must clearly show we have made adjustments to reflect the “new normal”, as well as taking on board a number of suggestions made by the funders. The church already has new Covid-19 arrangements for private prayers and one Sunday service at present, with suitable measures in place for safe use. We hope we will be in a position to submit a new Expression of Interest application as soon as Heritage Lottery permits, possibly early next year.
However, work on developing St Matthew’s as the focus of a Heritage Area for the town is continuing. We are pushing for funding through the My Town scheme where the church has potential to trigger regeneration in Walsall. Other avenues of funding are being explored. Increasingly volunteers are becoming involved in cleaning up the Church Hill Conservation Area as a community facility for the town and to raise civic pride, adding to the works by Walsall Council on the improvements to the town centre.
The church always values input and feedback about its work. If you would like to know more or contribute as a volunteer or financially, please do get in touch.