Friends in Clitheroe transformed their meeting location

Friends in Sawley met for worship in a historic 1700s meeting house. The building consisted of a large meeting room and a warden's cottage with a clear view to Pendle Hill. Over many years of alterations to the meeting house it became clear to Friends that a change was needed. Friends struggled to access the meeting and the rooms were cold and damp. Sawley considered their options and decided to take action.

A white sign reads Quaker meeting house
Friends Meeting House sign, photo credit: Pendle Hill Area Meeting

Historically, Friends overcame many challenges to be able to continue to use the premises. When it was built there as no plumbing to the meeting house. Twelve years ago, Friends in the meeting decided to apply to extend the meeting house to include a kitchen, toilets and a shower. Six years ago, awareness of sustainability issues and Friends' needs prompted the meeting to think about the building.

It became clear that despite renovation work which could be done, owing to its Victorian extension it would remain cold and damp. It was not possible to raise the funds for the kind of building work that would overcome these problems. There was an awareness that some Friends did not attend due to discomfort in the building.

Sawley Friends were aware of the limitations of the building: little accessibility, lack of public transport, restricted parking and energy to maintain the building and cottage were draining the energy of the meeting.

After a midweek meeting held in the library of the town, Friends commented how nice it would be to have that meeting in their own building in town, to be warm and accessible, to be in the heart of the community. Friends enthused by the idea arranged a visit to a nearby property. It was quickly clear that it would be possible to move but it was unclear if this was the right thing to do.

At meeting, Friends were open to the possibility of moving. A longstanding Friend said that the meeting house should be the tool of the meeting and not the other way around.

A series of threshing meetings, meeting for clearness, and two business meetings followed over the next few months. There was a strong emotional attachment to Sawley Meeting House, major life events took place there - the meeting was aware that the building was not ideal but did not want to let go.

Then the question that was being considered was changed from whether or not the meeting should move to 'what is best for the future of the meeting?' At this point there was a clear sense of the meeting that it was right to move.

The local meeting informed trustees of the outcome of their discernment. Area meeting trustees were in favour of Sawley Friends following this leading. BYM was asked about the historic status of the building and again were in favour of the decision.

In discernment, the sense of the meeting's ministry being primarily for visiting Friends had changed to an increased concern for social justice and a desire to be around for the wider community. The meeting minuted that it wanted to be where the people are.

The property was valued and sold on the first day it was placed on the market, the price was reviewed and found to be right and the sale went ahead. There were planning issues with both the old and new building which were resolved.

The new building in the centre of Clitheroe was altered to allow disabled access, good insulation and a comfortable space for meeting. The reasons for leaving the old meeting house were remedied by the new premises.

The charity commission were consulted and the old meeting house de-registered as a place of worship while the new meeting house was registered.

The money from the sale of the old meeting house covered all of the alterations needed to the new meeting house.

Clitheroe Meeting, now renamed from Sawley, believes it is on the verge of a new lease of life. Friends in Sawley were aware that their Quaker community was an ageing group and whilst they had the energy to make changes at that time, could see that this would not always be the case. The meeting felt it was important to embed in the town community and moving was the best way to realise this change. Friends remarked that if things were to be different this was the time to act.

This clear vision by Friends in the meeting gave the move momentum and helped Friends make practical and hopeful actions for the future of Quakers in their area.

Friends feel more connected to the area and worshipping centrally in Clitheroe gives the meeting a greater footfall and increases the awareness of Quakers.

Friends are now able to come to meeting without barriers being placed in their way. The welcoming meeting of Friends now inhabit a welcoming space, open to all.

Moving a meeting house is a mammoth undertaking which must be carefully considered by Friends. Discernment, conversation, and inclusive discussion are all crucial to beginning to take this path. Friends in Sawley consulted many different groups to help them realise their journey.

If your meeting wishes to begin this journey there are many places you can consult:

Meeting for clearness has helped many Friends develop a sense for a direction, or helped clarify the questions that need to be asked. Quaker faith & practice contains more guidance about meetings for clearness which may pertain to meeting houses and issues of property. (Quaker faith & practice 12.24)

If you would like to know more about the specific project undertaken in Clitheroe, please contact Nik Dadson (