Across the country, churches are under pressure to get creative in a bid to survive decreased attendance and rising costs. Funding is scarce, running costs are high and more often than not it is down to a small army of volunteers to repair, maintain, conserve and secure these national treasures. Churches have to break new ground to balance the decline in congregation and visitor numbers with a need to remain sustainable and conserve their priceless heritage.
Fortunately for St Laurence’s in Ludlow, a team of enthusiastic volunteers is on the case, led by a very energetic Rector, Reverend Kelvin Price. Peter Nield, Treasurer and head of Church Management and Lyn Jones, administrator for Arts@ St Laurence discussed their exciting plans and their proposal to attract more locals to the church by reinstating the building as a social centre of activity.
Peter explained that St Laurence’s (also known as ‘the cathedral of the Marches) has a bit of head start over many parish churches as it is the 6th largest tourist attraction in the West Midlands. There are other attractions, such as it boasts the 6th tallest spire in the UK and is the home to an 18th century Snetzler organ, 15th century misericords, highly valuable medieval stained glass and a newly acquired Steinway piano.
Although these assets attract visitors all year round and even though it can claim a healthy congregation at religious festivals throughout the year — up to 900 worshippers have been known to attend at Christmas time — the current brief is to entice more locals to visit and on a more regular basis.
More Space for activities
The plan is to improve and first on the list was removing the church pews from the nave and the side aisles and replacing them with a much more flexible and usable seating plan. This has created a new open area named The Space. The church was always designed for music and was more suitable for louder concerts where the music resonated throughout. Now The Space offers an alternative, more intimate and informal setting.
When LGL visited, a group of school children were sitting in The Space watching a live workshop on organ playing. The seats were curved around the screen and provided a more friendly, engaging setting for the kids, a marked difference from the straight hard lines of the old pews. And as Peter pointed out, it’s not just music and the arts that benefits from this format; baby groups, social meetings, films and even fashion shows can take advantage of the flexibility of The Space.
This summer, St Laurence’s is going back to its musical roots and will launch The Space with a programme of classical concerts and organ recitals. For the first time, says Lyn, the church is moving away from the traditional two week festival to a full season where artists can select dates.
The team are particularly keen for the summer concerts to become a showcase for younger, local musicians. The Steinway will be placed in the central nave but at floor level so that the younger artists feel less intimidated and more connected with their audience.
This season, the Arts team are not only working closely with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire — the programme concludes with a recital by world renowned pianist and Honorary Member of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Di Xiao — but have also invited two of Shropshire’s ‘most talented young musicians’. Rosie Sherpa and Lily Atkin (14 and 16 years old respectively) are both pupils at Shrewsbury High School and this weekend they will play in a ‘Young Musicians Recital’ accompanied by their teacher, Susie Allan, an accomplished concert pianist in her own right.
Showcasing young talent
Rosie has played in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales for two years, and played in the National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain for three years. Last summer, she won the Hayden Davies award of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales for 'the most promising player still at school.' She has also played solos in local venues such as Theatre Severn, St Chad's Shrewsbury and Shrewsbury Abbey, and has played in major venues with her national orchestras.
Lily began saxophone aged 8, gaining grade 8 distinction at an astonishing 11 years old. She won Shropshire Young Musician of the Year 2016 and was a finalist in Llangollen Music Festival International Young Musician 2017. Lily was also a finalist in GDST and Gregynog Young Musician of the Year 2018.
Susie is best-known for her work as a Vocal Accompanist and has appeared with many British singers such as William Dazeley, Susan Gritton, Thomas Randle, American, and Nathan Berg, Canadian. She is a former Professor of Accompaniment at the Royal College of Music, London, and of the Royal Welsh College of Music, Cardiff, and has given masterclasses for the East Anglian Summer Music School. Susie has had a long-standing musical partnership with the British baritone, Roderick Williams.
In the upcoming concert on Saturday, 6th July, Lily will present pieces on both the clarinet and saxophone, including the first movement of Brahms’ F minor sonata for piano and clarinet, and Marcello’s concerto for oboe, transcribed for soprano saxophone. Rosie, on this occasion, has decided to make the most of the opportunity to perform on St Laurence’s new Steinway, and will include pieces by Bach, Clementi, and the haunting Dumka op. 59, by Tchaikovsky.
Lyn concludes '‘we want to encourage young, local artists … we hope it’s the first concert that will become an annual event where young people from this area will be invited in to show what they can do”.
We suggest you watch This Space.
For more information on St Laurence’s exciting programme of classical music and arts, click here