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Careful consideration of options lights the way for Wirral church

St Bridget’s Parish Church in West Kirby has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years, reaching back to the time when Norse settlers occupied the Wirral peninsula – the Viking hogback stone in the south aisle is evidence of that.

The Grade Two-listed church was substantially rebuilt and restored in 1869/70 by Chester architects Kelly and Edwards. At that time fine fittings were added, such as stained glass windows by Kempe.

In 2015 the then-rector, Rev John Bleazard, asked the congregation: “Are you sitting comfortably?” He then launched a consultation on what improvements the congregation, event organisers and other interested parties, such as the West Kirby Museum, would like to see in the church.

As expected, better heating, an updated sound system and more comfortable seating conditions – all now successfully completed – were top of the list, together with a new improved lighting system.

MARTIN HARRISON was the project co-ordinator for the PCC of St Bridget’s. Here, he tells how the lighting project unfolded.

The wiring and lighting fitments had been slowly deteriorating over a number of years and repair work on the system was becoming urgent. The Church Enhancement Group soon realised that patch repairs were not a cost-effective or sustainable option and that only a full rewiring project provided a solution to our needs.

The Enhancement Group initially visited relatively local churches which had completed lighting improvements and made enquiries to a small number of potential partners in the lighting project. They ranged from lighting manufacturers to fee based consultants as well as church lighting specialists who might be capable of handling the project from initial discussions through to Faculty application and beyond. We were guided in this by the church architect, Alf Plant from Ainsley Gomman Architects of Birkenhead.

During these discussions the group identified that completely rewiring using the latest LED lighting and technology would meet our needs best – both as an Eco Church and giving an easily controllable system allowing varying effects and levels of light to serve the many uses of our fine church building. We also wanted a system to transform our special building and allow the many fine architectural features to be enhanced, while also remembering that it needed to be sympathetic to the routine of church services.

What we didn’t realise was that there were very many options and not all of them would have produced the results we desired.

Following discussions between ourselves and other churches who had previously been through the process, we agreed that the best course of action was initially to establish a good relationship with two ‘design and install’ companies and then visit a small number of their completed projects. The two companies initially visited us with no cost and no obligation, to proceed with them to look at our building and listen to our needs while explaining what could and should be considered. They also gave us an early indication of what the solution might cost, which was particularly helpful as up to that stage we were only guessing at what that amount may have been.

One of the companies, Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd, directed us to two projects recently completed, relatively locally in the North West – namely Eccleston and Standish – and the visits to view those projects left us completely satisfied, not only with what we saw but also with the feedback from the church representatives we met.

Che Polley from Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd made a small number of visits for discussions and demonstrations over a relatively short period of time, until he had arrived at a fully-costed set of proposals. They were presented to the PCC and wider congregation before it was agreed that the Faculty should be applied for. Our Enhancement Group was convinced that choosing a company that had been through the Faculty process on numerous occasions was the way forward. This was confirmed when the DAC of the Diocese of Chester approved the proposals drawn up by Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd.

The Faculty was duly received and it was decided that, under the guidance of Alf Plant, the works were to be carried out. The directly-employed installation team from Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd could not have been more helpful in not only allowing normal use of the church to continue with minimum disruption, but also by installing the new wiring system with the care and sensitivity our special building deserved.

The completed works have been warmly welcomed by all and the solution provides an excellent quality and suitable levels of light, while providing attractive enhancement for the many fine features – including the unique hogback stone, the Oberammergau frieze and the previously-unlit features such as the war memorial and the east window reveal.

The easy-to-operate-and-alter scene-setting system allows us to make any adjustments ourselves, following only minimal training which was provided by Che. We are, of course, extremely happy that there are no additional on-going costs to the scene-setting and programming, and are comfortable that Che will be available should any further advice be required.

The entire process, from first contact to completion of the project with Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd, leaves St Bridget’s in the very satisfied category and we would be happy to show our completed project or talk about the process with any individual churches who are considering new lighting. The Enhancement Group were also very happy that the final cost was within the guide price provided by Che at the initial stages of the deliberations.

Che himself summed up Anthony J Smith (Glos) Ltd’s view of the project thus: “This project was a pleasure for us to be involved with. The way the team at St Bridget’s organised, investigated and progressed the project should be commended, and we are very happy with the fact that not only does it appear to tick all the client’s desired boxes, but also with the way the final solution has been warmly received by the client.”

The final piece of the jigsaw in the improvement scheme – an extension with fully accessible toilet facilities for the use of the congregation and visitors from the community – is in the sights of the Enhancement Group and will follow on when the timing is right and the funding is in place.

• For further information visit www.anthonyjsmith.co.uk

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