Dreaming the Future: Sleepovers in Sustainable Church Pods


Ruth Knight

The Cathedral and Church Buildings Division support more than 16,000 Church of England buildings across the country. As times change, the organisation is finding innovative ways to make these buildings Fit For the Future. We catch up with Ruth Knight, their Environmental Policy Officer, to find out more.


Some of England’s most characterful rural buildings are churches. Set within beautiful scenery close to national parks, open countryside and historic towns, places of worship make up 45% of all grade I listed buildings in the country. Currently, the majority of the money needed for repairs is raised by congregations and local communities. But as some congregations dwindle, churches can face closure. Innovative ideas are needed to keep these buildings economically viable whilst maintaining their purpose of being socially and communally based. Church of England is rising to this challenge.

St Giles Staffordshire

© Bs0u10e0

Dreaming the Future

Concept sketch

© FCBStudios

From artists’ studios to education centres, the organisation has come up with a range of possibilities. One of the most innovative and exciting is the idea of the church pod, a space that fits inside a church nave to become self-catering accommodation. The pods would be constructed in a way that is completely reversible, ensuring minimum impact on a building’s historic fabric. Since over 12,000 of the 16,000 buildings looked after by CofE are listed, the pods enable sensitive use of some of the country’s most precious historic buildings. The organisation has worked with architectural practice Feilden Clegg Bradley to imagine the look and feel of the church pod, which will be viable in both open and closed places of worship. From the timber cassette construction and sheeps’ wool insulation to the on-site water and electricity provision, sustainability and energy efficiency are key.


The Pilot Pod

With a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Church of England is now able to start developing the pilot for the first of these pods. The pilot will use the closed church of St Michael’s in Herefordshire, a Grade II listed building built in 1865. The proposed church pod would be constructed inside the nave to serve as self-catering accommodation with income from rents being fed back into the maintenance of the building, lending the project its name of Virtuous Circles. Meanwhile, the separate chancel would remain open as a space for visitors, prayer and contemplation. Close by to the tourist attractions of the Brecon Beacons, Abergavenny and Hay on Wye, it’s easy to see the appeal of having unique self-catering accommodation in a location like this.

St Michael and All Angels Church, Dulas

St Michael and All Angels Church, Dulas


An Open, Sustainable Approach 

Making these thousands of historic buildings fit for the future doesn’t end with revitalising them as community hubs and accommodation retreats. Over 450 examples of renewable technologies including heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar PV panels have been installed at church buildings across the country. Alongside these larger projects, the organisation continues to integrate environmental awareness in other ways. They have teamed up with Sustrans to create cycle routes that link historic churches and cathedrals, and are inspiring greater use of energy efficient bulbs through a national procurement deal. They are also encouraging pilgrimages to the climate talks at Paris later this year.

Read more about Church of England’s environmental campaign, Shrinking the Footprint, and head over to the Network news pages to find out about the innovative projects and sustainability work being done by other members.