A renewed church in the heart of Cambridge

A renewed church in the heart of Cambridge

Major redevelopment work began at our St Columba’s building on Downing Place in September 2019. This follows the merger of the congregations of St Columba’s URC and Emmanuel URC, and the subsequent sale of the Emmanuel building on Trumpington Street to Pembroke College, which has released some capital to spend on redevelopment.

People, not buildings

Worship is at the heart of our life as a congregation, but the God whom we worship also calls us to live out our Christian faith through mission. We see this as a pivotal moment in the life of Downing Place URC – a moment in which we collectively catch a vision of what the future might look like, listening to what it is that God is calling us to do and to be in the centre of Cambridge, and then using the resources available to us to bring that vision to life. Although any planning application, by necessity, focuses on architecture, this is a vision which has people, not buildings, at its heart.

A ‘community of communities’

Through a long process of discussion and discernment, which has also been energising and inspiring, what has emerged is a vision of Downing Place URC as a vibrant, inclusive, reflective space offering radical hospitality and pioneering ministry in the heart of Cambridge. We imagine the church as a ‘community of communities’, a space which hosts a diverse range of activities, drawing in a wide range of people and forming a base for outreach work in the neighbourhood. Alongside our regular Sunday morning services, some examples of the work we are already engaged with or plan to develop include:

  • Employment and training for people with learning difficulties, in partnership with Eddie’s
  • A community ‘hub’, offering activities, company and support to vulnerable groups
  • A ‘Dementia Café’
  • Monthly ‘Open Table’ services for LGBT+ people and their allies
  • Hosting of Nightlite every Saturday from 10pm to 4am
  • Partnership with the Group Therapy Centre and hosting of ‘Anonymous’ groups
  • Regular hosting of the Cambridge Churches Homeless Project
  • Children’s ministry across the full age range
  • Pioneer ministry in local pubs and bars
  • Discussion groups for young adults
  • Alternative styles of worship
  • Regular free concerts and exhibitions

Hospitality, flexibility, accessibility

This vision requires a building which is able to meet the needs of a hugely diverse range of people and activities. Our plans preserve the character of the fine Victorian St Columba’s building, whilst also creating a more flexible and accessible space. Key features of the redevelopment include:

  • Creating a major new glazed entrance on Downing Place, providing an open, accessible and dignified front door to the church to ensure easy access for those with wheelchairs or buggies, and to allow passers-by greater visual access to the building
  • Creating a welcoming space inside the north (Downing Street) end of the building, which will also make better provision for Nightlite
  • Removing a lean-to conservatory at the back of the premises to create an oasis garden
  • Making changes to the hall areas in order to provide a community ‘hub’ as well as different-sized meeting rooms and a hall
  • Providing more central and accessible toilet facilities
  • Including a lift to provide access to the first floor
  • Erecting vertical projecting signs on both the Downing Street and Downing Place elevations, possibly of commissioned coloured glass artwork, to arrest the eyes of passers-by


Details of our planning application can be found here.