The former Trinity Church is a Shaftesbury landmark, its tower standing high above the town’s skyline. But many people are unaware of the role that this building now has in the community.
In 1974, falling congregation numbers meant it was no longer needed as a place of worship. A group of volunteers took on the building for the benefit of the community. And its trustees have just completed a refurbishment and upgrade of the facilities. Trustee, Trudie Stanley, gave ThisIsAlfred.com’s Keri Jones a tour and explained the group’s vision for the future.
“It’s a community hub in the middle of the town. We need to promote it now and show people that it is here for rent. We need it to be used because it will earn revenue so we can give back to the community,” explained Trudie, as we climbed the staircase inside the former Victorian parish church. While many Shaftesbury locals may know that there’s a day-care centre occupying part of the ground floor, there are new residents who have never been inside the building. Trudie would encourage them to view the impressive first floor hall space, which still retains church-like architectural qualities.
“If we were to look at all the different halls within Shaftesbury, and there are quite a few, this is probably the biggest,” explained Trudie. “It’s larger than the Town Hall. We can accommodate 100 people. It depends on the function. If you are going to have a party then 70 or 80 people could be seated quite comfortably. If it was a conference, you could certainly get 100 people in here. We have just purchased brand-new tables and they are rather posh,” Trudie smiled. “We are just buying a hundred chairs, too.”
The floor of the former church nave has been raised to create this upstairs space. That’s reduced the height of the stone archways, which stand out against the recently painted white walls on each side of the hall. Lighting picks out the cradle of black roof beams that form the ceiling. But the focal point is Peter Trigger’s painted 3D wall sculpture of St George slaying the dragon, against the fires and smoke of the holocaust. It’s a breath-taking backdrop but if the scenes of skulls scattered around a nuclear wasteland would be inappropriate for your event, they can be screened of with a curtain!
Trudie is clearly proud of Trinity Centre’s recent transformation. “All of the lighting in here is new. It’s all been redecorated. The flooring is new. We’ve had a new meeting room made out of the transept,” Trudie said, leading me into a side room filled with a central square of meeting tables, assembled in a square, wooden doughnut formation.
The lower parts of this room’s greensand stone was exposed and unplastered as a feature, revealing the building’s history. The tall church windows offer a view towards the Abbey’s back wall and the avenue of lime trees, which line the path across the churchyard. “This is a fabulous, light, airy room which would be good for art groups,” said Trudie. “We have a sewing group that meets here. A toddler group meets in here because it’s small and cosy. I have plans to eventually use this for weddings, if we get a licence. And there are beautiful views over the Blackmore Vale.”
Trudie says that the exterior green space could be booked for events and could host a marquee. The tower can also be opened for functions, offering commanding views across the town and Blackmore Vale.
But back to practicalities – we inspected the modernised loos and the upgraded catering facilities. “We’ve had a new kitchen.” As we peered inside I noticed three red footballs sitting on the kitchen floor. “It is used by the Scouts. They have access to it on four nights of the week. The footballs belong to them. They use this kitchen for making meals and pizzas.”
It can be used for events too. “We have used it for a fashion show and we’ve done cream teas and held fundraising events,” said Trudie, showing me the industrial dishwasher. I considered renting it at the weekend.
“Everything is now very modern and clean as you can see. And it’s in keeping with the character of Trinity itself. It’s now wheelchair accessible. We have lots of breakout rooms so if you had a conference, and you had a wedding fair, and you needed to use different rooms for different purposes then there are five potential rooms that could be used. We’ve also got Wi-Fi.”
Trudie says the trustees are keen to encourage live music events at Trinity too. Kachina Aimee sang her folk songs and played her harp here during Shaftesbury Fringe. Trudie, a member of the Community Choir, says that Trinity is recognised as a good performance space. “The choirmaster did compliment us on our acoustics,” she said.
The upkeep of former churches is notoriously expensive and Trudie is keen to encourage more users, to boost Trinity’s income. “The insurance annually is a four figure sum. We have done quite a lot of maintenance and we have ploughed a lot of revenue into making this warm, comfortable and a nice place to come, for the community to use.”
The Trustees do cover some of the building’s costs by renting out parking bays. “There’s a waiting list for spaces,” said Trudie. “We have an income through the day centre. We also let out a couple of units for private businesses within Trinity itself. They have long-term lets.”
But this charitable trust’s recent spending has been in order to accumulate. The trustees hope that by hiring out an attractive venue with improved facilities, they’ll generate cash, which will benefit Shaftesbury’s community and good causes. “Our aim now is to recoup our finances. Our core aim is to give back to the community. That’s the whole purpose,” explained Trudie. “It was developed to create a space for the Scouts, for elderly people and young children. Once the running costs are covered, we then give grants to local people in need.”
It’s fair to say that Trinity’s space isn’t used as much as it could be, currently, but there’s plenty of scope. “Our aim is now to give access to the community during the day. The Scouts have priority during the evenings, apart from Fridays and the weekends.”
Two months after completing this latest refurbishment, Trudie and her fellow trustees want to find new regular Trinity users for the next chapter in this building’s history. And she hopes they’ll get involved in time for events to mark the success of this community project, planned for summer 2020. “I’m involved in looking at the celebration of those 40 years and we will make it a big community celebration. I’m discussing commissioning a piece of artwork with local artists.”
If you’re interesting in booking Trinity, you’ll find information at ShaftesburyTrinityCentreTrust.com. “You can see all the facilities there. There is a booking app, which will show you the availability and costings. You can also find the telephone number of the Trinity administrator, so you can phone direct.”