St Bernard’s Church in Toxteth is given new life

The £2.2 million award-winning transformation of a Liverpool church into 16 affordable homes is complete, thanks to 10,000 hours of ‘sweat equity’.

And the innovative approach to help local people get on the property ladder whilst protecting the cultural heritage of the building, has won praise from former parishioners, residents and key members of the community.

Charity Housing People Building Communities (HPBC), and housing association Onward homes are behind the pioneering conversion of St Bernard’s in Toxteth, which features architectural details, including the original stained glass windows and vaulted arches, opened its doors to visitors before residents start moving in next week.

Former parishioners, the Archdiocese of Liverpool who gifted the building and land, architects, local colleges, LJMU, a major corporate donator of materials, politicians and local residents, were invited to tour the building before it becomes home to people.

The residents have helped to build the homes and develop the strong community they are moving into. By completing 500 hours of sweat equity, supported by their family, friends and volunteers, the residents who would have struggled to afford the deposit necessary to get to the property ladder, will be moving into their homes this month.

Housing People Building Communities (HPBC), a not-for-profit charitable organisation, dedicated to changing lives by addressing the housing crisis with a combination of self-build, volunteering and philanthropy worked in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Liverpool, and Onward Homes, in addition to Ainsley Gommon Architects, Hamptons NW Development, quantity surveyor Wilkinson Cowan and Sutcliffe Engineering, to deliver the unique project in Toxteth.

Said HPBC Chief Executive Liza Parry:

“Co-operation and partnership has been at the centre of everything we have done at St Bernard’s and it’s a principle which all our home owners 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.”

The homes include four 2 bedroom apartments, ten three bedroom and one four bedroom homes all contained within the church and one detached three bedroom home within the grounds.

The development is the latest project from HPBC which built 32 homes on neighbouring Alt Street and Kingsley Road, providing homes to a total of 140 people.

Their sweat equity contribution included everything from painting on the site, to website design, and was undertaken by residents, their families and friends, in addition to support from volunteers.

Further afield, the bricks were provided by Wienerberger, architects Ainsley Gorman provided the initial drawings free of charge.

Lin Powell, head of development at Onward, said:

“This innovative project wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic collaboration of all the partners involved.

“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.”

John Daglish and his partner, who bought a three bedroom home at the development, said:

“We were looking to buy an affordable property and we heard about the community through friends and we applied as the scheme seemed ideal in terms of location, local community and affordability.

“Over the past eighteen 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 to for so many things, including the quality and character of our new home.”

Bridie Fitzsimmons, aged 72, from Aigburth, a former parishioner, whose father was baptised in the church in 1905 and here parents were married too at St Bernard’s, said:

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

“I was amazed and delighted to see it. It was the start of a new era and it has become a beacon again but for the right reasons.   It’s vibrant again with a community and so happy, bright and welcoming.”

The project is about to be completed and home partners are expected to move in shortly after.

Top photo shows HPBC team build volunteers

Bottom photo shows one of the residents, Colette Byrne, outside her home.

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