20 Apr 2015

Flagship project aims to unleash the potential of the UK’s historic religious buildings

Empowering Design Practices

Empowering Design Practices

Researchers at The Open University (OU) are looking for those who use and have responsibility for historic religious buildings to work with on an exciting new project to engage local communities and unlock the potential of these important sites for future generations.

This flagship project aims to explore how religious sites such as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples in the UK can be respectfully and sensitively adapted so they offer their communities better facilities. Researchers will work with local community groups and historic places of worship that are planning projects involving restoration and/or some physical change in their building with the engagement of their community. Using an approach known as Community Led Design, which puts local people at the heart of making changes to their environments and neighbourhoods, this project will also draw on the expertise of specialists from a wide range of disciplines such as architecture, design, historic buildings and community engagement.

Over a period of five years researchers and a team of specialists will work with the guardians of these sites to help explore creative ways to engage with their communities to develop more open and sustainable places that can respond to wider societal needs. Examples of how these sites could be adapted may include small-scale changes in these buildings such as the installation of kitchens and toilets right up to larger-scale changes such as the creation of arts and educational spaces, libraries, or health and wellbeing centres. Project lead and senior lecturer in design at The Open University, Dr Theodore Zamenopoulos said: “The UK has an impressive range of historic places of worship with important architectural but also spiritual and social value. In some cases, the future of these places is at risk due to reduced use and disrepair. However, amongst others there is a growing aspiration to meet the needs of the local community while respecting the heritage of the place. This project will unlock the potential of these sites so that they can be part of the future of our communities.”

Dr Zamenopoulos added: “Everyone who participates in this flagship project can play a vital role in helping us to realise the potential of these historic sites, enabling them to be an important resource for the whole community.” On completion, the lessons and experience gained from the project will be used to develop free educational resources and training for congregations, community groups, design students and architects.

Empowering Design Practices: historic places of worship as catalysts for connecting communities is a £1.5m research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Connected Communities and Design highlight notice. It is a collaborative partnership between three OU faculties and institutes (Maths, Computing and Technology, Arts, and the Institute of Educational Technology), Historic England (previously English Heritage), the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance, Heritage Lottery Fund and The Glass-House Community Led Design. Additional professional support will also be provided by Wright and Wright Architects, Live Works, Silent Cities, and heritage consultant Becky Payne, amongst others.

To find out more or to get involved with the project please visit the project website at:


Notes to the editor

1. For further information on the ‘Empowering Design Practices’ please visit:

2. Funding for the ‘Empowering Design Practices’ project is strictly for research related activities only. Support to the historic sites of worship and community groups involved will be in a consultative capacity only. It does not fund capital projects or give funding directly to community groups.

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