Plans unveiled to transform the Malton Methodist Church into a community hub
- Credit: Archant
A £1million appeal has been launched to revitalise an important community centre in a North Yorkshire market town.
Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.’ The words often attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, will ring in the ears of every campaigner and rebel with a cause. The words have a direct calling for recent retiree Paul Emberley, who is leading the fight to create a vibrant community hub in Malton.
Wesley himself preached in the town in the 1770s. The architect, Rev William Jenkins worked with Wesley when Methodism took hold as preachers rode through the country on horseback. The Malton Methodist Church was one of just over a dozen designed by Jenkins.
‘People in rural communities were attracted to Methodism’s social ethos,’ Paul said. ‘Jenkins was asked to design a place to seat a thousand or more – and it did seat a thousand. Downstairs it was benched, so people were crammed in.’
Today, in common with many other Christian denominations, the church has a dwindling mostly elderly membership of just 40. Paul is leading a team that has launched a £1million appeal to fulfil the new Wesley Centre as the heart of the community.
‘Conservationists say this building is very special,’ Paul said. ‘There are only 41 Grade II listed Methodist buildings in Britain, and ours is only one of two such buildings in the entire Yorkshire North and East District of Methodist Church. It’s a rare surviving example.’
Tackling a historic building means red tape, sympathetic restoration, and consultation.
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‘Either we lock the door and mothball it, because it’s a building that’s twice been put up for sale with no takers, or we take on the challenge.’
It’s a challenge Paul – who retired to Malton just five years ago after a high-flying career in London – is well-equipped for. His last role was as Director of Communications for the East Coast Main Line in ‘the goldfish bowl of public affairs’ and he said: ‘For a few months I found retirement very difficult because I stopped dead. You’re as old as you feel, and I felt I had quite a number of years to offer something to the community.
‘I immediately made connections with the church and one thing led to another – the discovery of the problem with the roof in 2015 – that’s when we did some soul searching. Instead of everyone saying ‘that’s it guys’, I said ‘not necessarily, but it’s up to you, it won’t be easy’.’
A driving force was an extensive consultation in Malton which uncovered a dearth of buildings for community use.
‘It’s more than just saving the building, it’s about providing new spaces for the community too. In its 200 year history it has been at the centre of community life and we want to revitalise that.’
Plans include adapting the 550-seat space for concerts too, for conferences and events, and a large café to help fuel a solid business plan to maintain this historic building of national importance.
The time is right, and Malton which is at the heart of southern Ryedale is expanding rapidly with new homes. Paul also sits on the town council and is chairman of the Malton & Norton Area Partnership – helping to bring people together to achieve common goals for the community. By 2027, the population of Malton is set to increase by up to 50%.
‘Given the population has not budged from about 5,000 in almost 250 years it’s quite a big jump,’ Paul added.
Malton has never been so buoyant. The Malton Food Festival last year attracted a record 40,000 people. ‘One of the best little streets now, which was in a dip two years ago, is Market Street with quirky shops and cafes. Success breeds success. If we didn’t have this promise and growth, we wouldn’t be contemplating transforming this wonderful building.’
One of its key attractions will be the reinstatement of a restored pipe organ after the original was removed 20 years ago. An independent advisor in the field, Andrew Hayden, found a special redundant organ in Hailsham that fits perfectly.
‘The large organ we found has an amazing story – with strong Yorkshire connections,’ Paul said.
It was commissioned by the Royal Normal College for the Blind for its concert hall in south London, and built in 1877 by Foster & Andrews of Hull. Its provenance is significant as it’s the instrument the famous blind-from-birth Yorkshireman, organist and composer, Alfred Hollins, played. Hollins was considered a remarkably gifted superstar of his day, dubbed ‘Alfred the Great’.
And it could inspire future generations, engaging aspiring students from local schools. ‘Pipe organs are disappearing from Britain at a rate of knots,’ Paul said. ‘They often end up in former Eastern bloc countries. They’re taking fantastic instruments from Yorkshire and across the land. What’s special about our instrument is that it was built in the English romantic style and contains a lot of interesting orchestral stops. There’s nothing in this part of Ryedale that will approach it for its breadth of tone.’ The £226,000 restoration, complete with highly decorated façade, is taking place in Liverpool by Henry Willis & Sons, one of Britain’s greatest organ builder’s since 1845.
So, is it just a coincidence Malton is rising like a phoenix five years after Paul arrived? ‘I can’t claim any of that,’ Paul laughed. ‘It’s really just trying to uncover the passion of Yorkshire people and to get them working together for a common cause.’