Derelict Toxteth church comes home after 10,000 hours of ‘sweat equity’

A derelict church in Toxteth, Liverpool, has been resurrected as homes thanks to 10,000 hours of ‘sweat equity’ and a couple of million quid from a local housing provider.

St Bernard’s Church (pictured) has been transformed into 16 “affordable” homes in a £2.2 million venture by Onward Homes in partnership with charity Housing People Building Communities (HPBC), after the building and land was gifted by former parishioners along with the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

The conversion remains true to the original purpose of the building, architecturally speaking, with its stained glass windows and vaulted arches conserved in the church’s new lease of life.

Crucially, the project involved future residents contributing their labour – so-called sweat equity. By completing 500 hours, supported by their family, friends and volunteers, residents who would otherwise have struggled to afford the deposit necessary to get onto the property ladder are now moving into their new homes.

John Daglish and his partner, who bought a three-bedroom home at the development, said: “We were looking to buy an affordable property. We heard about the community through friends and applied, as the scheme seemed ideal in terms of location, local community and affordability.

“Over the past 18 months it has been a real pleasure getting to know so many others, with such diversity of backgrounds and situations. Our dream of home ownership has come true at last and we feel lucky for so many things, including the quality and character of our new home.”

The development includes four two-bedroom apartments, ten three-bedroom homes and one four-bedroom, all contained within the church, and one detached three-bedroom home within the grounds.

Residents’ sweat equity contribution included everything from painting on-site to website design. Further afield, the bricks were provided by Wienerberger and architects Ainsley Gorman provided the initial drawings free of charge.

“This innovative project wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic collaboration of all the partners involved,” said Lin Powell, Onward’s head of development.

“I’d like thank HPBC for choosing to work with Onward on this ambitious development, and would particularly like to thank the contractor Hampton Developments NW for how they have fully embraced the ethos of the project and supported the home partners to ensure they completed their sweat equity hours.”

HPBC’s chief executive, Liza Parry added: “Cooperation and partnership has been at the centre of everything we have done at St Bernard’s and it’s a principle which all our homeowners have embraced.

“It has shaped a new community and it’s given us a tremendous boost to finalise the development so the properties can become a home for so many who have worked so hard.

“Before the residents move in, we offered tours to former parishioners, the priest, Father Peter and everyone who wanted to see the transformation. The feedback has been so positive with everyone amazed and delighted to have it back in the heart of the community.”

Bridie Fitzsimmons, aged 72 from Aigburth, is a former parishioner whose father was baptised in the church in 1905.Her parents also married at St Bernard’s.

“Everybody was heartbroken when it closed,” she said. “It fell into disrepair and it stood out like a beacon because the roof needed replacing and bricks and stones were broken. I went inside and there were holes in the floor.

“I couldn’t have imagined it how it could have been made into homes, so it was incredible to see it had been brought back to life. It was the start of a new era and has become a beacon again but for the right reasons. It’s vibrant again with a community and so happy, bright and welcoming.”



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