The small Devon village of Littlehempston faced a couple of problems five years ago. It didn’t have a village hall for community gatherings and there were fears that the beautiful Grade 1 listed church might close, as congregations dwindled - a problem facing many rural churches today.

All was resolved by adapting the church so that it was both a "village hall" as well as a place for religious worship. In May 2102, after a busy winter of "re-ordering", the church was re-opened as a flexible multi-use space, with a new kitchen, toilets and underfloor heating.

But the most innovatory feature of the re-ordering was the idea to put the pews on wheels - to our knowledge this has never been done before. It means that we can have the church "in repose" for religious services, but within 5 minutes have the pews pushed back ready for a Pilates class. Everybody is now so well trained that after a concert & supper evening, we can have the place cleaned and pews in place for the Sunday service next morning in less than half an hour.

To pay for the project, villagers were invited to sponsor the pews in a big "Get the Pews on the Move" campaign and most pews have a little brass plaque denoting the sponsor. The sponsorship paid for installing robust locking wheels.

Visits and enquiries have been received from all over England wanting to know more about our pews and Community Space, and we've helped churches in the south-west,  Abingdon, King's Lynn, Great Bedwyn, Shelton and Chingford. The Conservation Officer for the Methodist Church in England asked for more details, saying We would like to encourage the adaptation rather than removal of pews within our listed buildings .. and wish to commend you on doing something different.

A church in Wiltshire hosted a Norwegian dance company, who'd performed for us, and wrote to say: We spent the day lugging our church pews around to make the space and the dancers kept saying "Well, in Littlehempston they are on wheels!" ... and of course we were intrigued to hear about this. I've googled "pews on wheels" and you come up immediately.

"Pews on wheels" have proved a huge success. The ability to keep the church looking as it's always done, but to move heavy Victorian pews quickly and easily to create a variety of layouts has made possible the wide variety of events and regular activities that bring in the income to keep our church open for all.

Everybody is welcome to come and see for themselves, and find out more about the Community Space. Contact the Community Space Team to find out more.

Details of fitting the wheels

We did the fitting of the wheels ourselves: initially rather crudely using the former kneelers as our spars and some very sturdy thick rubber blue wheels bought locally, which sadly the DAC did not approve of. We replaced them with Häfele braked castors, not costing a huge amount, but somewhere near the top of their range (ref. 660.19.261). We also routed the spars and concealed the bolts with the help of a competent carpenter.

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