The Creative Partnerships with Churches Network

SvN, along with Windmill Developments Inc. in Ottawa, has established The Creative Partnerships with Churches Network in Ottawa.

The first Network workshop was held on January 24th at Zibi. A panel of Bishop John Chapman, Drew Sinclair, Partner at SvN and Rodney Wilts of Windmill Developments led the discussion with over 100 attendees from denominations across Ottawa.

The Churches shared a number of concerns including the following:

  • Churches of varying denomination are facing similar issues of declining attendance, new methods and expectations of worship and maintenance costs of buildings that are beyond most church budgets.
  • Churches need to nurture the next generation and make sure they have a home and a sacred place for worship.
  • The land that churches occupy is their greatest asset. It must be understood as an instrument to ensure the long term well- being of the congregation. It is a tool to be used to its full value.
  • Property development will generate revenue/profit for the Church. These funds could support the repurposing of a church interior for new functions and new congregations, the building of a new housing community, or some other innovative capital initiative.
  • Reaching out early to this Network and other professionals is important to quantify the unique opportunity that each Church has. Understanding the repurposing potential and the value of each property is the first step. This is a discipline outside of what the Church typically understands and requires professional advice.
  • Understanding that the risk in development will be taken on by a developer/builder/financier. The Church does not have to bear the risk. The Church’s obligation is to foster the life and work of the congregation.
  • The City of Ottawa has excellent Heritage resources and advice is available through this Network.
  • Churches can learn from one another and support innovative and creative repurposing efforts throughout Ottawa.

Craig Lord of the Ottawa Business Journal covered the Network event. He had this to say. “Panel member Bishop John Chapman, who represents the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa told the more than 100 in attendance a story about a group of people waiting by the bank of a river that once flowed strong and supported the community. Some, he said, stubbornly sat and waiting for it to flow as strong again, while others followed the river into new branches and made a new life by the banks.

This, he said, is the problem the modern church faces: Too many congregations cling to the churches of days gone by, while numbers dwindle and refuse to accept or embrace their new role in society.

“Our resources are meant to support the churches of the 1940s and ’50s – that’s our burden,” he said. “It’s not anymore supporting the work we do.”

Many of the large, impressive churches he spoke of around the world are in need of serious repair or sit mostly empty – and while this is a problem, it’s also an opportunity to make use of that space, often in the form of a new revenue stream.

That revenue doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of residential conversion, though, says Drew Sinclair, principal with Toronto-based SvN Architects + Planners, who was also on the panel.

“Housing is not the solution to the church’s problems,” he said. He gave examples from some of the firm’s projects in Toronto and Winnipeg, including a redevelopment that removed the church’s historic pews for a more flexible community space, and one that redesigned the altar area to transform the church into an effective performance space.

All three panelists agreed that the best redevelopment for a church is one that aligns with the congregation’s goals. This can often be achieved through partnerships, the panelists suggested, giving the example of bringing social agencies or daycares to operate in the church’s space and lean on churches’ histories as community hubs.”

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We engage stakeholders in every planning process we lead. In complex cases, we facilitate a round-table dialogue process with key stakeholders to create a common understanding of issues, concerns and opportunities. We apply our technical expertise and to these consensus-based decision-making processes, identifying clear and actionable planning priorities. This innovative approach has been recognized by the Canadian Institute of Planners, which awarded our work in Thompson, Manitoba with the Award for Planning Excellence, in 2014.
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