Empowering Design Practices Live: celebrating community-led design in historic places of worship

On 12 February 2020, the Empowering Design Practices research team gathered with partners and community collaborators, colleagues, funders and friends to celebrate five years of research exploring community leadership in design within the context of historic places of worship. EDP Live was an opportunity not only to share what we have learned and the resources we have produced, but also to bring together a wide range of people and organisations that engaged with the project to reflect on work we have done together and to generate ideas and propositions for the future.

The day incorporated a variety of activities. The morning session started with an overview of the project and our key learning points and recommendations, based on our experience of collaborating with over 50 places of worship around the country, as well as professionals and support bodies that work with them. We explored key challenges that the custodians of historic places of worship face when seeking to develop their buildings for wider community use and discussed the approaches and tools we developed to support them in their journey. This was followed by a panel discussion where various partners briefly shared some key reflections and learning points, from the perspective of the organisations and sectors they represent. A key message that came through, articulated brilliantly by Historic England’s Diana Evans, was that engagement in design is important, it requires support and capacity building, but it can also be great fun, a space to build confidence and a frame in which important connections, friendships and partnerships can be formed.

The event included two panel discussions. The first was with invited participants from places of worship who have undertaken projects to refurbish and adapt their buildings, advocating both the need to engage the wider community in design decisions and the value that these places bring to society. We heard from Revd Canon Caroline Dick and Churchwarden David Wilcox from St Michael and All Angels, Witton Gilbert, Revd Simon Lockett from St Peter’s Church, Peterchurch, Revd Geoffrey Eze from All Saints Church, Hanley and Adam Yusuf, Chair of Israac Somali Community Association in Sheffield.

The second panel discussion was with professionals, architects and community development officers, who work with those groups at various stages in their journey. Aidan Potter from John McAslan architects, Nevine Nasser, architect and researcher and Wendy Coombey, Community Partnership & Development Officer at the Diocese of Hereford, talked about the intersections between design/architecture, faith and community and called for more innovative, more collaborative and more holistic thinking about those places and their sustainability.

At the heart of the event was an interactive exhibition inviting participants to explore some of the methods, approaches and resources used in the project. A series of films were also shown, presenting design project stories, and capturing our activities and outcomes.



Empowering Design Practices is a research project, which has delivered practical, hands-on support and which developed knowledge through involving participants in research and reflection. Staying true to this collaborative character, the event included two workshops which offered opportunities for people to engage practically with some of the project’s methods aiming to facilitate collaborative exploration of issues, opportunities and the generation of ideas for future actions. New ideas for actions and projects emerged, including resources, educational materials and engagement activities. What was striking was the openness, generosity and passion with which participants shared their knowledge, experiences and ideas.

The day closed with a drinks reception where we were joined by the Vice Chancellor of the Open University, Tim Blackman. He shared his thoughts about places of worship and used the examples of Durham Cathedral and the Angel of the North to talk about community value and ownership. He also highlighted the importance of building partnerships across sectors to feed into research, teaching and the delivery of projects that benefit society.

The film produced on the day, captures wonderfully the vibe of the day and key messages emerging from the project focussing on creativity, collaboration, partnership working and civic leadership.

Enjoy viewing it here:

The project’s resources are available from https://www.empoweringdesign.net/edp-resources.html


This blog is based on a longer post available on the project website, co-authored by Sophia de Sousa, Chief Executive of The Glass-House Community Led Design and Katerina Alexiou, Senior Lecturer in Design at the Open University.







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