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A freestanding contemporary extension has been built alongside and linked to the existing church. The new building has been designed to avoid interfering with the fabric of the existing church and the archaeology of this special, historic site and to be in keeping with the peace and beauty of the setting.
The need for more space for church services at Clare Priory is even greater now than when the planning application was first submitted in 1996. When the Augustinian Order returned to Clare in 1953 after an absence of more than 400 years the medieval infirmary was converted on a limited budget to serve as a church for the friars and novices and for a small parish. It was not designed or adapted to fulfil its existing role.
The new extension has been discreetly positioned so that it complements and does not compete with the existing medieval building. The plans followed a careful analysis of the Clare Priory site as a whole as well as the medieval infirmary and are the result of detailed consultations over the last 14 or 15 years with the local planning authority, English Heritage, and other bodies.
The original church was too small to accommodate the needs of its congregation and the wrong shape for the modern liturgy. The new free-standing extension is entered through the original building via arches and a glass arcade formed in an existing length of a late 19th-century wall.
The first move in the building programme was to remove part of the 1950s-build covered walkway that links the Priory and the church. We did not want to stop using our lovely existing church, so it is has been included in the overall design as a gathering place and the main entrance to the new building, through arches in the Victorian in-fill section of the south wall.
The new extension is totally independent in engineering terms from the present church to preserve the structural integrity of the medieval building, which is Grade 1 listed and a scheduled monument. The extensive use of glass in the walls and roof of the extension ensure that the medieval building and its footprint can still be clearly seen in its entirety and that people are able to see through the new church to the woodland beyond.
The new building is unobtrusive without being retiring, and contemporary without being strident. It respects the scale of its historic setting and still manages to provide for modern space requirements.
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