Sunday School Stories: Tales of dissent and social change

“every society honours its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.” Mignon Mclaughlin

Union Chapel’s Sunday School Hall is a large, airy, double height space with a 3 sided wrap-around wrought iron balcony. The balcony is complete with original study booths and library. It is a space that combines simple grandeur and practicality – it was intended to cater for a wide range of activities, including classes for up to 180 children and families, sports, tea parties and bazaars.

The space is also home to books, papers and artefacts amassed since Union Chapel’s foundation in 1799. This collection is an untapped treasure trove of stories. All housed in dusty cardboard boxes under a creaking roof.  It tells tales of nonconformists and their 100 year journey from persecuted minority to part of the establishment. It tells of the increasing acceptance of their liberal values, which have helped shape our society. But it’s full of the everyday too, insights into the lives of real people and their ambitions for a better world.

This project is a new chapter in the history of Union Chapel. It will mean creating a new room in a lost nook of the Sunday School where we can properly house our collection and library and make it publically accessible.

“Our church buildings are for use, not for the realisation of conventional ideas which unfit them for use”.
Revd Dr Henry Allon


The programme will create a mass of free activities to try. From conservation and archive skills to training in powerful public speaking – a skill of the activist leaders who inspired this project.

Most importantly though it will allow us to open up this little seen room and its collection for dedicated community use, cultural activity, ideas sharing and participative events – giving future generations the chance to create new stories of their own.

The Sunday School Hall shortly after it was opened in 1877

Key milestones:

2019 – 2020

  • Roof repairs
  • Internal repairs
  • Conservation and cataloguing of the collection – volunteer training programme
  • Repairs to the original library
  • Improve access routes
  • Insert discreet modern services (heating, electrics, drainage)
  • Conservation building repairs public training programme alongside the building works

2020 – 2021 and beyond

  • Prepare opening weekend with schools and community groups
  • Open with large festival style weekend
  • Take bookings for use and activities from the public
  • Run free activities such as paper conservation, public speaking, tour guiding, book making
  • Co-curate with the local community regular events, exhibitions and tours
  • Present a programme of great quality talks, events, shows, and gigs in an intimate space with a 200 capacity
  • Prepare next building phase!


What we need to raise (in general terms):

  • Roof and external works: £150,000
  • Scaffolding: £15,000
  • Temporary Roof: £15,000
  • Internal conservation works including repairing balcony, library, woodwork, windows, plaster: £316,000
  • Internal services including ventilation, drainage, heating, alarms, electrical supply AV: £240,000
  • Total capital works: £736,000
  • Professional fees in conjunction with the above: £160,000
  • Equipment, fees and materials for activities: £150,000


SO – add a proper contingency, some non-recoverable VAT and some inflation you get to the grand total of: £1,300,000!


Please help us write a new chapter in the history of Union Chapel – every penny or hour of time you can give is truly appreciated.



We are applying for grants and crowdfunding but we really do need all the help we can get. For more information about how to volunteer or become involved please email the Fundraising and Development Manager – Frances Sterling – [email protected]