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Frequently Asked Questions

What is project Beacon?

Project Beacon aims to put St Michael and All Angels Church at the heart of village life by making it a more accessible and flexible community space. The project includes refurbishing the existing path, creating wheelchair access,and remodelling the car park so people can get up to and into the church more easily. We also intend to remove some of the pews at the back to create an open space that can be used for a variety of community and church activities. A small unobtrusive kitchenette/servery will be installed in one corner to provide refreshments and the very old and inefficient heating systems will be upgrade. The project plan includes installing an accessible WC.

Will you be taking out the church pews?

Some yes. In order to make the space suitable for a wider range of uses and therefore accessible to the entire community, it is proposed to remove a number of the pews from the rear of the church.  We are looking at scope for reusing these pews elsewhere in the church – in the South Transept chapel for example – and we will also get removeable seating that can be put out for big services and stored away when not being used.  

Will you be taking out the font

No, the font will remain in the church and people will still be able to be baptised here.

I am concerned that the church will lose its character through this modernisation how will you make sure it doesn’t?

We have undertaken and will continue to undertake extensive surveys and research to ensure that the character and history of the church is preserved. We have to seek a considerable number of permissions to do anything and these will be clearly subject to ensuring that the current structure and character of the building are not negatively impacted.

Will the Church be locked when not in use once the work has been done?

No. The church is currently open to all at any time during daylight hours. This will continue.   

Will the car park be built across the existing churchyard and therefore disrupt graves?

No, it is not proposed to build across the churchyard where there are graves or tombs.

How much will the project cost?

The project has yet to be fully costed as there are currently so many variables in the plan.  It is proposed that the plan be implemented in stages so that there should not be a need for full funding up front.  As stated above the Church will be contributing significant funds to the plan. We will keep people informed of each stage of the process as the project progresses.

Who is involved in this project?

The DAC, church Council, members of the Parish Council, the Church Warden and various villagers who have volunteered their expertise.

Will weddings or funerals be cancelled for the work

Until we have a detailed project plan we can’t say how the normal running of the church will be affected during the work. We will do our very best to keep the church available throughout, and to have the building-work make as little impact as possible.

Why is this proposed and why now?

As well as traditionally a place for Christian worship, St Michael’s is a glorious building that is an integral part of our village’s story.  It commemorates the explorer, William Dampier, the author, poet and playwright, T S Eliot, and various other lesser-known historical figures and is therefore a centre of our shared heritage. Church attendance is reducing across the UK and East Coker is no exception.  If we view St Michaels only as a place of Christian worship, it will decline in relevance to the community and ultimately become unsustainable. Project Beacon aims to make the church building more accessible and suitable for a wider range of uses, so it becomes a cherished community asset for all providing faith, community and heritage under one roof.

Why do you need such a big space at the back of the church?

Currently the only event that can be hosted in the church is one that requires people to sit in rows, facing East. There is precious little free floor space anywhere in the church – only what is between pews in the aisles. An open space will allow us to use the church for many different events. These might include art exhibitions, smaller group events where people prefer to sit in the round rather than in pews, concerts, playgroups, workshops, educational visits and so on.  A more open space will also improve access to the Eliot corner.

Will you be deconsecrating the church?

No. The Church will continue to be an active place of Christian worship, regular church services, marriages, baptisms and funerals. As well as these, it will be available for use for other community activities for those with other faiths or none.

Is the Church a Listed Building?

Yes and, as the whole of East Coker is a conservation area, there are very clear requirements and permissions to comply with to ensure that we preserve the character and authenticity of the building.

Will I still be able to come to church for private contemplation?

Yes. Everyone is welcome everyday for a moment of quiet reflection, private prayer, to join a service or activity or visit the church to admire the building or visit the T S Eliot Memorial.

Why do we need another community space we have lots already?

The use of St Michael’s Church after agreed changes have been implemented is intended to complement existing community spaces, not compete with them.  There are things that would suit the church as a venue, such as a classical recital, which may fit less well in for example the pub, or the village hall.  Equally, you are unlikely to choose the church for the scouts’ quiz or a pantomime.  By making the most of an existing building, one that is beautiful and historically important, improving its accessibility, and increasing the range of uses it can be put to, we intend to enrich our village with another community asset.     

Will my council tax go up to fund this?

No. This project is a private project organised by the church and is not funded by Somerset Council and will have no impact on your Council Tax.

Can I get involved?

Yes, we are keen to hear from anyone who feels they would like to be involved in supporting the project, particularly if you have skills or experience in fundraising or finance.

What will happen to the T S Eliot memorial 

As with all the work proposed, nothing will happen to the Eliot corner without exhaustive consultation with the Diocesan authorities, experts in the field and other interested parties.  The Eliot memorial will be a particularly sensitive issue because, though it is a very popular visitors’ attraction, it is also a tomb and so must be treated with great reverence and care.  The opening up of the West end of the church will make the memorial, more easily accessible, and so there will be opportunities to consider how information about Eliot and his connection to the village is presented to visitors. This will be an important topic of discussion as the project planning progresses.

What will happen to the church services?

The church services will continue in the same way that they currently do as part of the wider Coker Ridge benefice along with our sister churches.  Everyone is welcome to the services of whatever their faith or none.

If you are using the space for a concert how will that work as the remaining pews will still face the altar?

In general it is expected that concert performers will be at the front of the church. Depending on attendance however, the rear of the church might be used for refreshments before or after the event.  If more seating is needed the moveable seating could be put in place.  It is not intented to turn the remaining pews around or make them free-standing.

What other changes are being made within the church?

The heating will be overhauled and upgraded. An accessible WC will be installed.

A new small catering area will be installed in the South West corner to allow for refreshments to be served at events or after services.

What permissions have you sought and from whom?

Work on any church, particularly listed, historic churches like St Michael’s, is extremely tightly controlled.  Ultimately the decision over whether to allow alterations to take place is the Bishop’s exercised through the Diocesan Chancellor.  The Chancellor is advised by a group called the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) which comprises experts in a range of relevant disciplines related to the care, conservation, and refurbishment of ancient buildings.  Depending on the precise nature and location of the work, planning permission or listed building consent may also be required.  However, a range of statutory and non-statutory bodies are always consulted as part of the process. 

An initial proposal has been submitted to the DAC for consideration and a delegation has visited St Michael’s to see for themselves.  From that visit some useful advice and guidance was received and a more detailed proposal has been prepared which will be submitted in due course.

Are you doing anything outside the church?

Yes. The path up to the church is unstable and not easy to navigate so we will be refurbishing this to ensure that it is safe and accessible for all. We are also looking at improving safe parking and making the carpark easier to manoeuvre in.          

How will this project be funded?

The church will be contributing significant funds to the project but as it is an ambitious plan, there will need to be funding from elsewhere. We have established an initial Fundraising committee and are looking at ways of raising funds from local businesses, grant-making opportunities and local people who are able to give. There will be no obligation for villagers to help fund this project. We are looking for people with relevant experience who are interested to help with fundraising.

When will it happen

There is a great deal of planning to do before we have a clear idea of timings. We hope to complete the refurbishment of the path, something that must be done urgently on health and safety grounds, before the onset of winter. Other elements are very unlikely to start until 2024. 

How will I hear about the progress of the project

A website has been set up specifically for this project, called Project Beacon and details can be found at These FAQs will be accessible on the website and regularly updated as more information comes to light or more questions are raised by the community that can be answered for all.  There are also already lots of ways of communicating in the village, including Newsletters and posters and we will ensure that updates are provided into these sources on a regular basis.

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