Decline of bank branches could benefit Cheltenham church
By Laura Enfield | 3rd August 2023
Religion will replace money if plans to transform a Cheltenham bank into a church go ahead.
First Church of Christ, Scientist wants to replace the clink of cash with the hum of hymns at the former Lloyds branch in Bath Road.
The branch served the Montpellier and Leckhampton area for more than 50 years before shutting its doors in November 2021 to the dismay of the local community. The building has sat empty since.
Religious leaders are keen to capitalise on the banking world's loss and have applied to Cheltenham Borough Council to transform the former Lloyds at the junction of Suffolk Street into a place for worship and community.
The vacant building dates back to 1966 and they want to modernise the outside with new windows, a new entrance with a disabled ramp and rendering of the brick walls.
Application ((23/01201/FUL ) shows the existing roof and parapet will be raised to create a new ceremony room and internal alterations are proposed to create spaces for meetings, reading, a nursery, Sunday School and the main assembly room.
It is the second set of plans this month to transform former banks in the street into more philanthropic enterprises.
A few doors down, proposals have been submitted to turn the former Natwest branch into a charity shop for Emmaus Gloucestershire. It closed in January and the charity which supports homeless people has applied for permission (23/01150/ADV) to put new signage on the empty unit.
It follows the trend of banks disappearing from the high street as more people manage their money online.
A total of 5,695 branches of banks and building societies have closed, or are scheduled to close, since January 2015, according to a report by the Mirror earlier this month.
It said this equates to around 54 branches each month - with at least four more Gloucestershire closures coming this year.
-HSBC will close its branch at 2 Market Place, Cirencester by August 8
-Lloyds will close its branch at 86 Bristol Road, Gloucester by September 18
-Natwest will close its branch at Unit 4, St. Oswald's Retail Park, Gloucester by September 26
-Virgin Money will close its branch at 215 High Street, Cheltenham by October 30
Cheltenham firm RRA Architects has drawn up the plans for the Lloyds site and said the area has recently been a focus of "thoughtful architectural conversions" including the plans for the neighbouring Natwest site.
It said of the Lloyds proposals: "Great care has been taken to design a development which integrates with the site and its surroundings.
"The alterations have been designed to have as minimal impact on the local area as possible, and enhance the tired and dated external appearance of the bank."
It added: "The proposed application for its conversion underlines the ongoing transformation and rejuvenation of the area, whilst respecting and preserving its architectural heritage."
The building sits within the Central Conservation Area but the applicant said the changes would bring about improvements to the street scene rather than any "detrimental impact".
The plans are not expected to have a negative impact on the roads as there are two public car parks nearby and unrestricted on-street parking as well as buses and cycle racks.
A statement by SF Planning submitted as part of the application said: "The site is located in a busy and vibrant part of the borough where residential and commercial uses coexist alongside each other."
It concluded: "The proposed change of use will ensure the building continues to contribute to the designated neighbourhood centre and will be contextually appropriate."
Both sets of plans can be viewed on Cheltenham Borough Council's website.
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