The development control committee will meet on Monday, March 22, to decide on the fate of Mount Pleasant Chapel, which has lain derelict on Spring Bank since it burned down in 1993.
Council officers have recommended the plans be approved and there is significant community support for the project, but no one has raised their hopes higher than Lyn Banister and Russell Hindley, who paid £100,000 for the site last summer and hope to make their new home in part of the building.
Lyn, who has been director of the New Mills Festival for the past 13 years, said: “There is so much going on in New Mills but there is nowhere quite like this. It would be a fantastic contemporary arts space with studios, a lovely café and space for people to come and work – a place to chill out and be inspired.
“We think the design is something that’s not been seen before locally either. We want to use contemporary materials to give it a different feel, and give the town a bit of an edge.”
The project already seems fit for an episode of Grand Designs. Such is their confidence in the planning application, Lyn and engineer Russell sold their house just before Christmas, put their belongings in storage and moved into a rented flat.
Adding to the mood, Lyn said: “We think we’ve got just enough money to finish it, but we need to get started before the whole thing falls down. Every time there’s a gale, I go back and find another piece has caved in.
“We’ve done small renovation jobs on other houses we’ve lived in, but we’ve always wanted to do something big like this. Being cooped up in the house during the pandemic with no festival to work on gave me the time and push to go for it.”
The chapel and its adjacent Sunday school were built in 1892, replacing a church built in 1838. It finally closed 11 years before the fire gutted the interior. What was left of the roof has long since collapsed, leaving only the original walls, including the stunning carved gritstone façade.
What remains of the building will be painstakingly preserved in the new building, along with other references to the site’s history.
Classified as a non-designated heritage asset, High Peak planning officers acknowledge that if the ruins are not safeguarded they will degrade beyond repair.
Lyn, who also used to run the Studios Gallery in the town, said: “I grew up in Liverpool where we have ‘the bombed-out church’ used as an arts space. I think this has the same kind of meaning for New Mills – for 40 years it’s been ‘the ruined church’ and it was important to recognise that in the aesthetics. The fact that it’s been derelict for so long is important to me.
“It is like a beautiful little wildlife oasis and all these trees had grown up within it. We had to cut them down while the birds were away for winter, but I decided to update the plans and create an atrium and a roof-cut-out where a new tree can grow through the centre of the building.”
The headstones which still line the chapel cemetery will also be made accessible to the public again as part of the landscaping works which Lyn is planning alongside a private garden area in what was the Sunday school.
Precise plans for the interior layout are still to be finalised as Lyn considers how best to make the business side sustainable, but alongside her own apartment there will be accommodation for a visiting artist-in-residence, studios, and flexible space for events and coworking.
The design has been created by New Mills architect Jeremy Poulter, and Lyn intends to employ local contractors throughout the project.
A steel frame inside will tie the façade and other walls into a new structure reflecting the shape of the original building. The most distinctive exterior features will be a modern steel roof and low-profile, single-pane aluminium windows.
If planning approval is granted, Lyn hopes the building can be up and running in 18 months but acknowledges it could take up to three years to fully complete.
In order to minimise disruption to the community at street level, she is currently negotiating temporary access to the site from a patch of land behind the site which is owned by New Mills Town Council.
Lyn said: “Ever since we put out the public notice for relocating the gravestones, we’ve been flooded with support from the community. I think being involved in the festival and the lantern parade for so long means people trust us to do this right.
“Site access will be the most challenging part of the whole project. It’s a nightmare with a narrow front gate and steep steps. With all the materials needed for a project this big, it would cause havoc on the road, so hopefully we can come to an arrangement and take everything through the back way.”
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