A closed down chapel in the Yorkshire Dales will be converted into affordable new homes as part of a new national approach to redundant places of worship.
National Park leaders said they hoped a raft of similar proposals to breathe new life into vacant chapels will be forthcoming as the area grapples with a housing crisis that is threatening the sustainability of small Dales communities.
A change in approach by the Methodist church following the sale of seven chapels in the area in as many years, led yesterday to members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee voting unanimously to approve a scheme to transform Bainbridge chapel into two affordable flats for rent "in perpetuity" for local people.
The community-led scheme has been heralded as a “national pilot” by the North Yorkshire Dales Methodist Circuit, which will retain ownership of the building.
Previous circuit policy had been to sell-off redundant chapels.
Circuit administrator Julie Greenslade said: “Circuits are now being advised by the [national] connexional property team to explore all opportunities for chapels before selling them off, including low-cost community housing.”
The two-storey Bainbridge chapel, in the centre of Bainbridge village, closed for worship in 2017 because its congregation had become too small to sustain it.
With the building’s future now assured, the Circuit will work with Richmondshire District Council to ensure the two flats are matched with local people who are in need of affordable housing.
Amanda Madden, the district council’s rural housing enabler who has worked closely with the Methodist Church on the scheme, said: “This is a national pilot for the Methodist Church in Great Britain.
“The North Yorkshire Dales circuit have sold a chapel a year for each of the past seven years, but now they’ve realised the chapels could be used for community-led housing.
“The scheme in Bainbridge is being delivered and driven by the local community, following a feasibility study in the parish.”
As highlighted by The Yorkshire Post’s recent Dales in Crisis series of special reports, an acute shortage of affordable homes exists in the Dales.
Average house prices are up to nine times more than average wages and the situation is causing working-age families to leave village communities.
Meanwhile, Historic England has warned of a parish church “time bomb” in the Dales, created by dwindling congregations and an increasing struggle to maintain the buildings.
Jim Munday, the National Park’s member champion for development management, praised the Methodist Church for its vision to convert Bainbridge chapel, saying: “It shows an enlightened approach to surplus chapel buildings and is a socially responsible thing to do. We’d like to see more such applications come forward in future.”
Mr Munday added: “The proposal will contribute to the objectives of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan, including seeking to support the completion of 400 dwellings in a range of tenures and sizes by 2024. The scheme will deliver much needed affordable housing in Bainbridge.”