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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Collaboration brings stunning results

Nestling in the heart of the historic Norfolk market town of Swaffham, the beautiful Grade Two-listed Methodist Church has recently been renovated to offer state-of-the-art resources to people of all ages and interests in a bright and welcoming building.

The transformation has been accomplished in no small part through the collaboration of two specialist church suppliers – Cunnings Recording Associates and Fullers Finer Furniture – in conjunction with the building contractor H Smith and Sons of Honingham.

Walk into Swaffham Methodist Church today and you enter a contemporary and flexible space, exquisitely modernised to blend the best of old and new, through bespoke furniture and restoration work provided by Fullers and a quality audio-visual system installed by Cunnings.

Paul Fuller LCGI and Malcolm Cunnings MInstSCE explained that the church wanted to make better use of the space within the building to allow community events and activities to be held as well as regular Sunday services. Most of the original fixed pews have been removed and replaced with flexible seating to optimise the space available in the church. Bespoke cupboards have been fitted to house the stacking chairs when they are not in use.

A number of the original church pews have, however, been carefully restored and retained to form an additional seating area under the balcony. The original wood panelling around the church, cut to fit the original pews, has been replaced with a new frame and panel-effect décor to blend with the balcony frontage. New solid oak skirting and painted dado capping give a contemporary feel while reflecting the existing décor of the building.

Further restoration work was carried out on the sanctuary side of the doors and windows in the entrance. The result is a lighter, natural look that is more akin to the original wood colour.

Consideration was given to every detail, down to the making of custom handles, to ensure an exact match to the existing door fittings.

On the east wall of the church, Norfolk artist Eddie Goodridge has created a mural which reflects the church’s history and its connections to the town and wider Norfolk community. Bespoke cupboards below the mural, fitted with a decorative solid oak moulding on the doors, have been built to provide additional storage.

The requirement for total flexibility continues into the sanctuary, with each piece of furniture hand crafted for its own unique purpose and setting: designed to combine beauty and functionality. The communion rails, with built-in cup holders and kneelers, and finished to match the other soft furnishings in the church, are free standing, lightweight and portable. The matching communion table is decorated with hand-carved motifs of bread and grapes and features a beautiful solid-oak top, with chamfered corners for safety and aesthetic reasons.

Two Fullers lecterns also grace the sanctuary area: the renowned height-adjustable and easily-manoeuvrable York lectern in a natural oak finish with an LCD monitor, microphone socket and built-in retractable tablet lip, and a matching fixed-height lectern made in an attractive lightweight three-legged design. The York lectern is decorated with the hand-carved symbol of an open book.

Two discreet floor boxes house the connections from the lecterns to the audio-visual system. Each floor box includes a matching set of audio connections for the lectern microphones. HDMI sockets feed the lectern LCD screen and allow a laptop or tablet computer to connect to the system. The free-standing LCD monitor can also be connected to allow musicians and service leaders to see what is being displayed on the main screen.

Cunnings have also installed a high-brightness LCD projector, suspended from the ceiling, which displays content from the laptop, DVD player or the controllable camera mounted on the rear wall. The electric projection screen automatically deploys when the projector is turned on, and when not in use retracts inside a pelmet designed and built by Fullers. The front of the pelmet features an inspirational text in wooden lettering.

Beside the pelmet, a hand-crafted cross made in natural oak with black walnut rear crosses sits within a high alcove at the front of the church, highlighted with LED backlighting.

Music plays an important role in any church, and that is especially true for Swaffham Methodists which is fortunate to have a number of professional musicians in its congregation, who appreciate good quality sound. Clustered around the projector are a pair of music-quality speakers, which provide coverage for the entire congregation. A number of input sockets along the front wall allow microphones and instruments to be easily connected.

At the rear of the church is a discreet bespoke servery, tailored to suit the needs of the church and fitted with the essentials, including an under-counter instant water boiler and stainless steel sink.

Next to the servery, the matching AV cabinet houses the audio and video equipment, specified by Cunnings, within a custom-built enclosure. Opening the lockable door and bi-fold lockable lid gives access to the equipment, with seating space for an operator. At the heart of the audio system is a digital mixer with built-in automatic microphone mixing and recallable settings, allowing the system to be confidently operated by various users. A dedicated audio recorder allows concerts and music recitals, as well as regular services, to be saved directly to USB or SD card.

A simple control panel, mounted within the cabinet, allows the complete audio-visual system to be switched on and off with the touch of a button, enabling individual components to turn on and off in sequence to prevent power surges. Other buttons provide control of the projector and screen and selection of the visual inputs. All of the cables for the cabinet are hidden within a bespoke enclosed cable duct.

An audio frequency induction loop system means hearing impaired members of the congregation can participate in services. In the rear hall a similar loop system has been fitted, together with a pair of speakers, allowing the room to be used either as an overflow from the church or for separate meetings. The simple wall-mounted control panel in the hall provides volume adjustment and connection for portable audio devices.

Outside the church, provision has been made for a digital signage screen to be fitted in place of the traditional noticeboards to display notices and adverts for forthcoming events to the community.

Both Cunnings and Fullers have been involved with the project from the design stage, working closely with the client and architect over a couple of years to enable the history and architecture of the church to combine with their requirements for modern functionality.

Said Malcolm Cunnings: “The unique combination of expertise, experience and attention to detail sets Fullers apart.” Paul Fuller concluded: “This project continues a long established collaboration between Cunnings and Fullers and it is invaluable to be able to work with a like-minded company with proven experience within the AV industry.”

The final result is a beautiful early 19th-century church sympathetically restored and transformed by Fullers and Cunnings and ready to take its place in the future of the community it serves.

For further information visit www.cunnings.co.uk and www.fullersfinerfurniture.co.uk