Not all of Hampshire’s churches are just places for prayer, some have found a new life in hospitality, serving up sandwiches instead of sermons, while others now offer coffee and community.


Great British Life: Papillon, the bar/restaurant located in the former church on Commercial RoadPapillon, the bar/restaurant located in the former church on Commercial Road

For as long as Zsofia Maros can remember, she had gazed up at the high stone walls and tried to peer through the elegant, pointed windows whenever she passed by the old church opposite the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. The building always intrigued her and drew her in. However, after walking it past it for so long, it felt quite surreal when she finally crossed the threshold two years ago during the soft opening of the new restaurant.

The first thing she noticed? ‘The golden stairs’, she said without hesitation. ‘They are stunning.’ And then, the heavy wooden beams that gave the interior a solid yet somehow comforting feeling. Back then she thought how wonderful it would be if she could ever work here. So perhaps there were good spirits at work that night in this sacred building because not only did she reconnect with an old friend who eventually became her partner, but she also laid the foundation for her new job.

Starting this summer, Zsofia became the event manager at Papillon, the bar/restaurant located in the former church on Commercial Road. Her responsibilities include scheduling band nights and, especially in the upcoming weeks, Christmas parties featuring either a three-course meal or a buffet. These events will allow her to transform the already picturesque setting into a winter wonderland.

Built in 1845 in the Neo-Norman style, St. Peter’s Church, as it was originally known, was designed by Winchester architect Owen Browne Carter. But the religious building was declared redundant in 1979 and sold to developers three years later. After operating as the Vestry for several years, the restaurant reopened in October 2021, now offering modern, English cuisine such as fish with homemade chips, gammon with a duck egg, and crab cakes with lobster cream. They serve coffee in the afternoon and are working on a late-night menu for musical events that Zsofia is thinking of linking with the shows at the Mayflower.

The place was recently redecorated so the ceilings are now a warm racing green, creating a soft contrast with the cream-coloured walls and the wooden banister.

As seems fitting for a church restaurant, they are regularly booked for weddings - offering traditional as well as modern settings. 'We just had a couple who want a Halloween theme for their wedding next year,’ says Zsofia, who is already thinking about how best to decorate.


Great British Life: Trudy Rankin of St John’s has now perfected foaming the milk on a cappuccinoTrudy Rankin of St John’s has now perfected foaming the milk on a cappuccino

The most challenging aspect, according to Trudy Rankin, was perfecting the milk, learning to froth it into a flawless foam to crown a cappuccino. After all, no one in the group of volunteers was a professional barista. 'But at the same time’, June Shorey adds, 'it was really exciting to learn a new skill and to master a new craft.’

It was a thrilling endeavour the church embarked on ten years ago. In the newly built church centre, they opened a coffee shop for the community. Each morning, serving up hot drinks and homemade cakes to all who step over the church threshold, accommodating patrons on colourful tables next to the imposing stained glass church windows. And on Saturdays, visitors are eager for their bacon and egg rolls.

St John’s in Hartley Wintney, has a history of its close bonds with the community. On Monday mornings the halls in the church centre are reserved for Bumps and Babies, Tuesday afternoons for Forget-me-not Café (for those suffering with dementia and their carers), and Wednesday and Friday evenings for fitness enthusiasts. The picturesque red-brick building overlooks the oak common in the centre of Hartley Wintney, a village historically known for its antique shops and one of the oldest cricket clubs in Hampshire.

Their culinary journey began two decades ago with the Oak Tree Café, an outdoor seasonal pop-up café. When discussions arose about building a church centre annexed to the 150-year-old church, the decision to create a professional coffee shop was soon agreed.

'Would you like chocolate on top?' enquires Helen Timpany, currently on barista duty. And the only distinction from a typical coffee shop is that coffee is not usually brewed beneath a Bible verse. 'Taste and see that the Lord is good,' reads the white text against a soft blue background above the Iberital coffee machine; a fitting quote.

'We don't intend to preach in the café, but we also don't wish to conceal our devotion to God,' June explains. The goal was to create a welcoming space for interaction, for meeting people – a plan that appears to be succeeding. It is just past ten in the morning, and the coffee shop is continuously filling up with life. Groups of friends, many of whom appear to be regulars, gather around small square tables. Before long, the entire centre is abuzz with conversation and connection.


Great British Life: The Man In The Moon now serves up cocktails instead of sermons Image: Adrian PinkThe Man In The Moon now serves up cocktails instead of sermons Image: Adrian Pink

Nestled between a social club and a clothing store on St. James Street in Newport, the imposing spires of the great chapel pierce the sky. Victorian architect Francis Pouget designed this church in 1848. Today, the building serves the purpose it did for nearly two centuries before the church’s construction: it is a pub.

Such transformation is not unusual on the Isle of Wight. On the diamond-shaped island across the Solent, there are over 80 former places of worship, although most have been converted into holiday cottages or homes.

Upon entering, soft cream hues blend harmoniously with the wooden banister, drawing one’s gaze upward to the captivating high-pointed windows. It is this sight that might have astonished the managers of Wetherspoons almost a decade ago. The company is known for its restaurants in unconventional locations: in Llandudno, Wales, you can enjoy coffee in an old cinema; in Keswick, Cumbria, they converted an old police station, and in Glasgow, you can dine in an old vault.

On the Isle of Wight, they purchased the former place of worship during a period when the church lay abandoned. The stained-glass windows were restored and original stonework touched up, before reopening its doors as a family-friendly restaurant in May 2014, under the name The Man in the Moon.

Now, the early evening sunlight streams through the windows, casting mosaics onto wooden tabletops. As the Christmas season approaches, the church is certain to welcome guests clad in festive jumpers or Santa hats, enjoying a Blueberry Snow (with lemon gin and blueberry liqueur) or a Godfather (with whiskey, amaretto and lime) before indulging in a Christmas meal or maybe even a Christmas concert.


Great British Life: Sue Mann provides the cafe with freshly baked goodies every day. Image: Anna-Maria BauerSue Mann provides the cafe with freshly baked goodies every day. Image: Anna-Maria Bauer

Sue Mann had never really been much of a baker. But when covid hit and her father died, she joined St. Margaret’s Church in Southsea. When they started to think about opening a café within the church and were looking for volunteers to supply cakes and biscuits, she decided to give a recipe for rocky roads a try...‘and it escalated from there,’ she says, smiling, as she places the tray with the dark and white chocolate goodies back into the display counter, that she provides on a weekly basis.

Next to her, Father Fran Carabott carries mugs to the dishwasher while the stained glass windows featuring St. Peter and St. Raphael seem to watch over them from above. The group is tidying up after the day’s session and preparing the space for the group of children that will enter in half an hour to explore the soft play area located in the aisle on the other side of the main nave.

When Father Fran Carabott was asked whether he might be interested in developing something new at St. Margaret’s Community Church eight years ago, he knew he wanted to do things differently.

Great British Life: Father Fran Carabott welcomes visitors. Image: Anna-Maria BauerFather Fran Carabott welcomes visitors. Image: Anna-Maria Bauer

'I wanted a place where we could combat loneliness and poverty, where we could bring the community together.’ And they particularly wanted to invite guests who might not have considered visiting a church before, so a café was the obvious choice.

'We started with the basics—pots of filter coffee and tea,’ says Sue Lynes, who also helps in the church. But soon they realised they wanted it to be like an actual coffee shop. Now, they offer donuts, scones, or rainbow cakes, all homemade by members of the community. There are cold drinks, and patrons can choose between flat whites, lattes, or americanos.

'It has been lovely to see how more and more new people find this place,' says Sue, grinning. 'People come in for coffee and cake, but what they really get is Jesus.'

Christmas holds a special place in their hearts. Not just because of the giant tree and the decorations adorning the stone pillars, but also because of their Hampers of Hope - boxes filled with everything needed for a Christmas meal. 'We provide turkey and a vegetarian options,' says Sue Mann, who also runs the pantry throughout the year. 'Last year, we put together 150 of these hampers.'