Improved Step-free Access
As part of our project "Revealing St Alban's Hidden Heritage", part-funded by a major grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, made possible by money raised by National Lottery players we will be providing an improved step-free entrance to the church and hall for both wheelchair users and ambulant visitors.
The church of St Alban the Martyr is built on land rising from west to east, so the floor at the west end of the nave is raised above the external ground level. The entrance through the west porch (or narthex) is up a flight of steps from the street. Although the south porch in the base of the tower opens onto street level, there are internal steps to reach the level of the nave. In 1997 a step outside the ‘cloister’ side door was eliminated to provide wheelchair entry and an adapted toilet was provided for wheelchair users. However, this door did not provide 'equal' access because it was not an obvious entry route for visitors, being situated at the end of a path from a side gate and obscured from the street by a hedge, and to gain entry it was necessary to attract attention by ringing a bell. The door was also not wide enough to meet current standards for wheelchair access.
Our initial preference was to provide equal access for wheelchair users to the church through the west porch. To provide step-free access, we planned to create a new doorway into the north end of the porch with a sloping access path as an alternative to the steps to the west doors. However, we were not able to obtain regulatory consent for this because it required alteration to the historic fabric of our Grade II* listed Victorian Gothic building and would have altered the external appearance of its historic western façade.
We therefore developed an alternative scheme to provide a welcoming lobby as an entrance to the church for wheelchair users and ambulant visitors alike by modifying the modern 'cloister' annex. This was annex added to the north side of the church in 1984 at the same time as the church hall, primarily as an entrance to the vestries and the new hall. It already provides a step-free access route to the church and is in fact used routinely by many of the general congregation as well as the choir. However, it is not fully compliant for wheelchair use and is unsuitable for general use during events in the church because it provides an unseen access to the vestries and hall area and so cannot be left unlocked for security reasons.
To make this entrance suitable for general use as a principal entry to the church we will modify the modern structure to create a larger lobby with separately controllable access through a historic doorway into the north transept of the church and through a new door to the vestries and hall area. There will a wider glazed outer door, an information panel and a new security fence to prevent access to the rear of the hall when the gates are open. There will also be new lighting for the path from the street to this entrance.
Removal of an overgrown ornamental tree and part of a privet hedge will make this 'cloister' entrance more visible from the street.
The overgrown non-native ornamental cherry tree and high privet hedge hide the 'cloister' entrance from the street.
Removal of the tree and part of the hedge will give a clear view of the improved 'cloister' entrance.
The work to modify the entrance is expected to start in March 2020 and be completed in June, while the lighting for the path should be installed in September.
To avoid potential disturbance to nesting birds we have cut down the tree and hedge in January before the start of the main work.
The hedge cut down and the tree lopped ready for felling; 28 January 2020
The trunk of the tree removed.
The Tree and Hedge Roots Grubbed Out - Early March 2020
After closure of the work site from the 24th of March to the 1st of June 2020 due the the Covid-19 epidemic, the immediate priority was to progress the work on the roof, which may be affected by adverse weather later in the year, so work on the cloister entrance did not begin until July.
At the start of July a church volunteer cleared the cleaning cupboard of its contents, removed the chairs from the corridor and moved the statues of St Michael and St George that normally reside in niches in the lobby into the church for safety.
Next week the building work began with the demolition of the old cupboard.
The site of the former cleaning cupboard 8 July 2020
After the demolition of the old cupboard there was a pause in the work on the cloister entrance, while efforts were concentrated on the renewal of the church roofs before autumn conditions made high-level work more difficult. Work resumed in late September as the work on the high-level roofs was drawing to its close.
You can see the progress made in October here: http://www.saintalban.co.uk/restoration/stepfreeaccess/october/
This page is part of our project "Revealing St Alban's Hidden Heritage" supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.