God sent a breakthrough
- Greyfriars Chuch, Reading

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Greyfriars has just opened their Foyer, Coffee shop and Bookshop, with a new wide doorway through into the church’s West End. It is light, contemporary, and full of life. It is called The Atrium.   

The church dates back to 1285 on the current site. It was a former Franciscan Friary, but was restored as a Victorian Church in the 1860’s. In 2000 it was re-ordered by Maguire & Co. (Predecessors to JBKS Architects) and has since grown and developed into a thriving evangelical Anglican church. They have been desperate for more facilities and space for years, but the site was too constricted and difficult for any solution to be viable.   

Then God sent a breakthrough. Two adjacent properties, with their gardens abutting the Greyfriars site, came up for sale. They were both owned by Reading Borough Council and used as offices. It was ideal. The houses could be used for Greyfriars staff offices, and the two gardens combined with the Greyfriars site to make room for a spacious sky-lit link leading to much needed toilets. 

JBKS Architects had been trying to squeeze in a solution before, but it was impossible and unsatisfactory. Now suddenly it was all possible, not just for toilets and offices but for a whole new glass-fronted West End. This would replace the 1970’s fortress style building which was working hard, but way past its use-by date. 

After its fair share of battles to gain permission, the project has now been completed by ASH Contracting Ltd and is open. There is a welcoming coffee shop, foyer space, a fully stocked and bright bookshop, and – something this church has never had before – a wide-open access-way into the church through the west wall. This access was a major feat of construction. It was necessary to cut through a one-metre-thick solid flint wall, just below a fine traceried stained-glass window. The temporary works alone were like railway bridge sized steel girders. For those who are interested, I reviewed the steel calculations, and the beams were 11 times stronger than required to hold up the lintel. This was because they were especially designed to ensure no danger of deflection for the sake of the beautiful medieval stained-glass window above.   

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By comparison, it was far easier to build the stunning curved glass exterior wall with the Grade 1 listed west wall behind. This is now a graceful statement of contrast and harmony – the old and the new. 

With The Atrium now complete, the foundation piles have already been poured for Phase 2 to which it will be linked. Phase 2 replaces the old sports hall, which has also passed its use-by date. It was a noisy badminton type hall, working hard, but shabby and beyond restoration. 

The church has been bold in investing in God’s church in a way that is worthy of His message, one of “A hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29 v 11). Great credit should go to the Greyfriars client team, who have indeed been courageous, but also professional, intelligent, and good leaders. They have persevered over hurdle after hurdle as well as through refusals and appeals. In addition, even more credit should be given to the Greyfriars congregation, who have supported the vision, and more-or-less paid for the project. It is eye-watering to realise that it is out of the pockets of ordinary people that most of the funds have come. They seek no individual recognition. Their chief motivation is what God has done for them, through the blessing of salvation, and his constant presence and support for them in their lives. Without these humble but amazing people, the vision would never have become reality. 

At the opening ceremony Greyfriars commented on The Atrium:

“After 20 years of planning and preparing we are delighted to announce that phase 1 of Greyfriars redevelopment project is complete and the new Atrium is open! The Atrium at Greyfriars is a light and welcoming space for Reading, with a new coffee shop facing onto Friar Street, a Christian bookshop and lots of flexible space for the people of Reading to build community together. Our vision for the Atrium is that it is for every person in Reading, from the youngest to the oldest and from those in great need to those who want to serve and help others. For 710 years, Greyfriars has been serving the poor and sharing the Gospel and we look forward to marking this new phase of the church’s life with you.”  (The Rev.d. David Walker, Vicar)

Well done, Greyfriars.  And God-speed for Phase 2. 

Jeremy Bell

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