GLASTONBURY BUILDINGS 

We will add more buildings to this section as we develop the site

In the meantime , the below is an extract from a paper written in 2007

Usually a building is simply the structure built to house a specific activity. Churches and cathedrals were built to accommodate the worshipers of the Christian church. University buildings were constructed to provide lecture halls, libraries and accommodation for students.

But in many cases the buildings constructed for one particular purpose have out-lived its good that purpose and find themselves being used for something different. For example, the Abbey is no longer a home for monks but has become a ruin in park-like grounds. But there is still the atmosphere left by centuries of prayer and the Abbey and its grounds has become a sacred place open to all quite independent of its original Christian foundations.

Abbey House was built as a private residence but has long outgrown its original owners and is now a successful and active retreat house.

The Red Brick Building was constructed as a sheepskin processing factory. The factory has long since closed but the buildings have found a new lease of life as a community centre for the arts.

The Glastonbury Experience complex of shops in the High Street was at one time a garage but is now the home for alternative shops and charities. We feel that in many cases the buildings themselves are worthy of merit as being something more than simply the container for a specific activity.

The biggest single change in buildings in Glastonbury has been in the number of new domestic properties that have been built. Almost every piece of open land in the centre of the town has now been filled with terrace houses or flats, Still more houses are said to be needed and one large house-building project is being carried out as this is being written.

But what of the buildings that might be said to be an important part of the emerging Pilgrimage Town – the new international spiritual centre. The disappointing answer is that, despite many splendid ideas, and with some notable exceptions, little change has taken place.

Some of the projects with which I have had some involvement are as follows. The exclusion of other projects from this list is due to the fact that I know little about them rather than to any lack of their importance.

Glastonbury Experience (GE)

This is a complex based upon a number of individual High Street shops. These shops were purchased in the 1970s by Helene Koppejan and converted into a courtyard with arts and crafts shops on the ground floor and galleries and function rooms above. Helen had personally run the whole complex as one business, employing managers to run the shops and the function rooms.

From the beginning the GE had an Alternative flavour and all the original shops were very much New Age. In the early days, there were financial problems with the GE, but eventually sustainable stability was achieved when the ownership of the GE was gifted to the Glastonbury Trust on the death of Helene in 1998.

The GE has been able to deliver a real part of the infrastructure of the emerging Pilgrimage Town. It is worth looking at details of some of the projects with which the GE has been involved.

Long Term Tenants - One of the reasons for the long term stability of the GE is that it has had a number of long standing tenants who have leased the ground floor shops. They include Star Child owned by Glen Childs, Margaret Kimber founded by Margaret Kimber, Stone Age owned by Lui Krieg, Courtyard Books owned by Gareth Mills and the Blue Note Café whose present owners are Dick Jones and Dan Brown.

This stability has been helped by the special atmosphere of community that exists amongst all the tenants of the GE and which has evolved directly from the Alternative origins of the business.

Meeting Rooms - The GE has two useful meeting rooms on its upper floors – The Georges Rom and the Miracle Room. They are available for hire.

Community Projects - The policy of the GE of supporting charities and not-for–profit community projects has enabled it to help launch a number of new projects since1985. These include: the Library of Avalon, the Isle of Avalon Foundation, the Brigit Healing Wing and Goddess Temple.

The Anglican Churches

We are looking at what has happened over the last twenty years. For most of this time, very little has changed with the churches in Glastonbury. What is interesting is that in the last year or so both the Anglican Churches, St John’s and St Benedict’s, have seen that, with their aging and shrinking congregations, they are no longer certain how they can maintain and keep open their buildings in the longer term. As the churches say

We could worship anywhere but we also have the responsibility for the building’.

The other side of this situation is that the town expects the churches to be there for christenings, weddings, funerals, Mayoral Sundays and other public events but do not make a realistic contribution to the up-keep.

As a result of these developments, the churches have realised that they need the support of the larger community. If they are to achieve this larger support, then they will have to convince the community that this support is needed and will have to be able to offer the community a wider use of the buildings.

Arising from this analysis of the situation, the churches have instituted an investigation into what they term a ‘Re-ordering of the Church’. This involves a major review of how the church is arranged including the possible removal of the pews, improving the central heating, re-arranging the offices and the installation of toilets.

These investigations are at an early stage but the possibility of the churches being more widely used as non-denominational sacred spaces, and for their use in a wider range of community activities, is a very encouraging development.

Assembly Rooms

The Glastonbury Assembly rooms were built in the 1920s as the town meeting place and enjoyed a period of considerable success when the operas of Rutland Boughton were staged there. During the 1939-45 war, they were used for storage. After the war their original function was taken over by the sparkling new Town Hall and the Assembly Rooms were allowed to slowly deteriorate.

In the 1970s, a small group of 'alternative' enthusiasts set up a new trust and purchased the buildings. Some repairs were carried out and the buildings began to be used for events staged by the alternative community. Money was always a problem and in the early 90’s a new Industrial and Provident Society was set up; 100 shareholders subscribed £500 each and the building was purchased from the trust.

The buildings are costly to run and maintain and there has been a need for substantial capital improvements including sound proofing and central heating. The buildings have been improved but the Assembly Rooms are surviving rather than thriving. There are a number of causes of this, the main ones being firstly that the group of hard working volunteers who keep the building running have lost the support of the shareholders and hence there is no further funding forthcoming for capital improvements. The second reason is that the Assembly Rooms also appear to have lost the sympathy of the larger community and as a result the rooms are being under-used. The situation is not ideal, but the Assembly Rooms have been preserved and are in a reasonably good state of repair.

Abbey House

Abbey House is a substantial Victorian building lying in the Abbey Grounds to the East of the Abbey and fronting Chilkwell Street. The house had formed part of the Abbey Estate which was purchased by the Anglican Church in 1909.

This house has been used as the Diocesan Residential Retreat House since then. The principal users have been church bodies and charges have been kept low. There has been only a modest use of the premises. A result of the low income and usage has been that there has been insufficient revenue to allow for the modernisation of the rooms to the currently expected standards, such as bedrooms with en-suite facilities.

The Abbey House trustees now find themselves unable to pay a current market rent to the Abbey and unable to fund the improvements to the building which would bring it up to modern standards and so enable an increase in the charges to be made.

The Abbey House trustees are now exploring a number of possibilities including the widening of the uses of the building, possibly housing a new Academic Research Centre and working in partnership with other parties. These are very positive developments as a modern, well run Retreat House would be a very positive contribution to the facilities offered by Glastonbury as a centre of pilgrimage.

The Abbey

In the last twenty year there have been no major changes to the ruins or the Abbey Grounds. A few new events have been staged such as the Classical Extravaganza but on the whole the grounds are not used for community events.

There is also a very strict control of what goes on in the grounds and non-Christian ceremonies are not allowed.

The Abbey Trustees have registered the Abbey as a Museum with the VAT authorities. Whilst this is understandable from a financial point of view, it does perhaps give an indication of how the trustees view their responsibilities. We now have a strange dichotomy.

On the one hand we have the local community who see the Abbey Grounds as the sacred heart of Glastonbury, that should be open to all as a place in which to honour the sacred in whatever way feels most appropriate to the individual or group concerned. On the other hand, the Abbey trustees, who control the use of the grounds, see the place as a Christian Museum.

This uncomfortable situation is not sustainable long term and a number of voices are being raised about the currently very restrictive use of the Abbey Grounds.

Like every other charitable organisation, the Abbey is faced with spiralling costs and an income which is not keeping pace. In much the same way as the Churches, the Abbey may have to broaden its view of what activities are allowable if it is to receive additional financial support from the whole community.

See also our page on the history of The Abbey

The Sanctuary See our page - Sanctuary .