Thursday 12 December 2019

Excitement Mounts as Chapel Re-Opening Draws Near

With its clean internal lines, Mondrian inspired stained glass and dramatic Verdigris roof, the handsome chapel has been a much-loved feature of the College since it was built on land between the Senior and Prep Schools, opening in 1967. It became the gathering point for the whole school for assemblies, prizegiving ceremonies, concerts and worship; the calm yet inspiring space families came to on first looking for a school for their children and the nostalgic setting for final goodbyes for Sixth Formers.

Sadly, a flaw in the dramatic 1960s design allowed rain damage to accumulate and back in February 2017 the building was closed with regret. A subsequent inspection established the extent of the damage and consultations began on how to restore ‘the heart of St Joseph’s’. Plans were drawn up and a massive fundraising campaign launched to support the Ipswich independent school’s £750,000 bill for repair and refurbishment.

The construction project was awarded to Hadleigh-based architects, Wincer Kievenaar (WK), who began work in June 2017. WK established the major issue was the glazing on the cupola and it was agreed to replace it, as well as to carry out structural repairs to the glulam boomerang frame that forms the distinctive roofline. Fortunately, the irreplaceable copper covering the roof was undamaged.

Three Ipswich firms were brought in: Elliston Steady & Hawes as contractor, JP Chick the structural engineer and JSH, to undertake the building services’ design. As well as being the architect, Wincer Kievenaar was also the Contract Administrator which meant WK was involved in coordinating all the other design consultants and overseeing all the different elements of the refurbishment work.

Spearheading the project has been WK director Philip Branton, a fan not only of the Chapel but also of St Joseph’s College, having both of his sons, Oliver (Year 7) and Oscar (Year 3), at the school.  

He said, ‘Although the main objective was to get the repairs done and to get the Chapel back up and running, the College was keen to address additional elements on the inside of the building in order to enhance the experience and aesthetics of those using the Chapel, particularly for key services and performances. This included new lighting and audio-visual systems and a new dais, as well as refurbishing the original timber floor and the heating system.

‘Another issue was the ongoing maintenance of the cupola and to mitigate this, the design eliminated the need for the high-level gutter on the roof so that there is no need for scaffold to be erected to regularly clear the guttering of leaves and debris.’

The internal upgrade has been a revelation, enhancing what was already a majestic space. St Joseph’s has crowned the refurbishment by bringing in a magnificent Model D Steinway grand piano, formerly in use by the Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow.

Although the Chapel remains as dear to St Joseph’s College community now as it was on first opening, much has changed at the school in the past half century. What was once a Catholic school for boys has long been a co-educational school guided by Christian values but welcoming children of all faiths and none.

When the Chapel reopens the Blessing will be given by The Bishop of East Anglia, the Right Rev Alan Hopes, a Roman Catholic, but also taking part will be representatives of Protestant denominations and of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities, reflecting the College’s inclusive ethics. There will be songs from around the world and a Gospel Train medley as well as traditional hymns, including the College hymn, Jerusalem.

Mrs  Clarke, Principal of St Joseph’s College, said, ‘The closure of our Chapel came as a blow. We created a new meeting space, The ARC – reflecting the College’s key words of Aspiration, Respect and Confidence – and it has seen us through very well. Indeed, it will be an additional asset going forward. But the excitement around the reopening is palpable.

‘The Chapel, always dear to the hearts of those in the St Joseph’s community, including generations of old boys and girls, is now an even greater source of pride. The Grand Re-Opening and the Carol Service two days later will be full of emotion, gratitude and St Jo’s warmth.’

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