As part of our wider vision, Enlarging your tents, we are considering a building development at the Abbey, predominately in part of the grounds known as the South Garth. Building works will also encompass the current Church Rooms, either at the same time or at a later stage.
On March 1st the Vicar updated the congregation and other interested parties on the latest stage of our plans at a meeting over coffee. A summary of our latest thoughts can be found here along with the presentation from the meeting.
We intend to deliver the following:
- A significantly improved visitor experience that will raise the profile and usability of Romsey Abbey as a visitor attraction, increasing footfall in the town, and contributing to the economic sustainability of the Abbey;
- Opening up the Abbey as a learning resource for schools and other visiting parties;
- Protecting and enhancing key elements of the heritage of Romsey Abbey for future generations;
- Providing staff and volunteers with better facilities for their everyday work of community outreach and service to the Parish.
The new building is likely to include:
- an Education Centre;
- improved visitor facilities;
- a sacred space centred on the Romsey’s nationally-important Saxon Rood;
- redevelopment and better integration of the Church Rooms;
- rehearsal facilities for musicians; and
- storage space.
The designs of any new buildings will minimise their impact on the overall carbon footprint of the church.
We have not yet reached the stage of commissioning artist’s impressions and must emphasise that it could be several years before construction actually starts. Building in such a sensitive environment must be carefully planned and is likely to entail both wide-ranging public consultations and a substantial fundraising campaign.
There are a number of interrelated and urgent drivers for the project:
1. Heritage – preservation of the Saxon Rood
Unlike all bar one of the other English Norman Abbey Churches, Romsey remains intact. The Rood which is situated on the exterior of the West Wall of the South Transept is a unique and remarkable piece of Saxon sculpture – one of the few in the country. This icon would have been placed inside the Saxon church but was moved into the original Norman cloisters when the church was rebuilt in the 12th century. This Rood has been integral to the life and worship of the Abbey for 1000 years, but has been eroding due to its setting (it is open to the weather) for a number of years.
In preserving the Rood – an undertaking that is becoming increasingly urgent in view of its deteriorating condition – this project would provide a golden opportunity to reintegrate it into the church as a focus of everyday worship and reflection for centuries to come. This could be achieved through sympathetic architecture and the rediscovery of the Norman cloisters.
2. Education and tourism
Romsey and the local district attract a number of visitors. However, there is huge untapped potential for a large number of local primary and secondary schools, as well as adult education, tourist, heritage and visitor groups. We wish to unlock this heritage and education potential through a new Education Centre. An education officer will provide learning facilities for schools and adults, and there will be temporary and permanent exhibition spaces allowing the story of the Abbey today and its rich history to come alive for old and young alike.
3. The visitor experience
We currently lack the facilities that many visitors would expect in a church of the Abbey’s size and importance. An improved visitor experience will increase the visitor footfall to the Abbey as well as the town. This will involve better access, enhanced accommodation for gift and book stalls, toilet facilities, running water, a kitchen and the ability to offer refreshments to our visitors.
4. Community facilities
We wish to develop the Church Rooms in order that they are linked directly – by a covered walkway – to the Abbey as a multi-purpose place of hospitality, community and church use to house additional groups to our existing church and community organisations.
The existing Church Rooms, which date from the 1960s and are in a separate building, need to be made more accessible and are in need of enhancement to meet current and future needs. The architecture of the1960s is out of keeping with the beautiful historic Norman buildings around them.
Rebuilding the Church Rooms offers the opportunity to make more efficient use of the footprint of the available plot of land and provide a supporting infrastructure that will be required for the next generation and beyond.
Community partnership is at the heart of this development. The Church Rooms are used by about 10 Abbey and local groups including the Stroke Club, dance groups, and activities for all ages and stages of life. We envisage a partnership to provide resources for the large number of local arts groups, as well as other community groups, including visiting choirs and musicians.
Romsey Abbey sources all the trustees for a local mental health charity, Triangulate. We work with local employers, and Community Mental Health teams, NHS and other agencies and need a safe space to provide signposting, support and guidance to employers, employees and the local community.
5. Relocation of choir facilities
Our choirs currently practise and store robes in a historically important chapel in the Abbey that is necessarily off-limits to visitors. It contains medieval wall paintings that require better access in order to maintain and preserve them. Relocating choir facilities to a song school outside the main Abbey building would open up this chapel for visitors and enable future restoration of the chapel as a sacred space; purpose-built facilities would also enable us more effectively to deliver our ministry of music.