Ambleside Methodist Church

St James's Church, Alnwick
©John Spence

Region: North West

Local Authority: South Lakeland

Year of Intervention: 2003

Summary: Adaptive re-use of the former Methodist church has provided fifteen affordable homes.

Description: Ambleside is a small market town in Cumbria, with a population of less than 2,600.  The town is within the Lake District National Park, situated at the head of Windermere, England's largest lake. Ambleside has been a settlement since pre-Roman times, although the present town largely grew up in the Victorian era, when the advent of the railways lead to an increase in tourism to the area.

In 2003 the Ambleside Methodist congregation was looking to redevelop their building at the same time that the Anglicans congregation was looking to build a new Parish Centre for the benefit of the church and the community.  

Ambleside has a significant undersupply of social housing. Since the year 2000, house prices have increased by 139% and wages by only 22%, making house prices around 11 times the average income.  In 2003 there were 100 households on the waiting list and young people were not returning to the town after leaving for further education, as the cost of housing was prohibitive. A Housing Needs Survey conducted the year before the project began showed a total of 106 households in need of affordable homes.


The local Methodist minister initiated a scheme to provide affordable housing
utilising the Methodist church building. This not only met a housing need, but also provided capital to join with the nearby Anglican church (reflecting a long history of co-operative working) to build a new ecumenical and community centre on Anglican-owned land.

The Methodist congregation felt strongly that their old church should be used for the community, preferably for affordable housing.  They proposed to use the money from the sale of their church to help fund the new centre, together with a successful lottery bid, already secured by the Anglican church, a grant from the Anglican congregation and local fundraising for the remainder.


Following a decision by the Secretary of State that the building did not meet the criteria for listing, the re-use project was granted planning permission, subject to certain conditions relating to external features and construction materials.  The old Methodist church and hall are now 15 affordable homes (4 one-bedroom and 11 two-bedroom) over three floors. The buildings have been sympathetically converted and extended with many of the original external features retained, including stained-glass windows. There was little formal objection to the development when local people realised that the church would not be demolished. Occupancy has been restricted through a Section 106 agreement and priority given to people with local need: that is, those employed in the area; living there for 3 years; inhabiting unsuitable accommodation in the area; or evicted from tied housing in the locality. The congregation are delighted with their new worship space at Ambleside Parish Centre, which is also used extensively by the local community for activities – bringing additional rental income to both the Methodist and Anglican churches.

Web Links:

For further details see Faith in Affordable Housing - a practical guide to using church land and property for affordable housing



To receive the quarterly HELM eNewsletter, please complete the form below.

An archive of past newsletters is also available to view.

What's New?