The first new environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient area offices in the Diocese of Oxford have opened in Theale, west Berkshire.
The new building – St Birinus House – is in the top 10% of new non-domestic buildings in the UK for sustainability. Features include a green (sedum) roof, high levels of insulation throughout, sustainable drainage systems, electric car charging, air source heat pump, and energy- and water-saving fixtures and appliances.
After searching for a location and planning for almost five years, the large Rectory garden in the Parish of Theale was divided in two and selected as the best location, with the backdrop of Holy Trinity Church. The building is specifically designed so that it can be easily altered and repurposed in the future, and materials can be recycled, limiting any future negative impact on the environment. The outside space, including the roof, has been landscaped to enhance the ecology and biodiversity of the area, and bird boxes and bat boxes have been installed to provide for wildlife.
Construction was completed in December 2021 and the Reading Area Team, including the Bishop of Reading and Archdeacon of Berkshire, who support churches and parishes in the Archdeaconry of Berkshire, moved into the new space on 20 June 2022. With good rail links and an active bus route, area staff can make use of public transport and the electric car charging hubs, reducing the net carbon emissions of the offices.
The Rt Revd Olivia Graham, Bishop of Reading, said:
“We are delighted to have this beautiful new building in which we can not only house the whole Area Team, but also offer ‘hot desk hospitality’ to other staff who are working in Berkshire. It was very much part of the vision to use the build to showcase our diocesan commitment to the environment, and the result does just that. We are incredibly grateful for the skill and commitment of everyone who was involved in bringing this vision to reality, and for Dave Mitchell’s wonderful design.”
“We continue to work towards making a real and tangible difference to environmental sustainability in all the choices we make, including the spaces we live and work in, how we travel, and the energy we use.”
David Mitchell, Deputy Surveyor in the Diocese of Oxford, speaking on the construction of the offices:
“The single-storey building has been carefully designed to fit with the adjacent historic church building and rectory and make efficient use of the space. The building exterior is covered in natural Larch cladding, a durable and sustainable material, and as it naturally silvers over time will reflect the stonework of the church and rectory.
“Sustainability and environmental impact have been at the forefront of the construction. All materials from paint to flooring to the bicycle storage are made from natural and non-toxic materials, and the air quality rating is the best achieved of any building in the diocese.”
New address for the Area Office:
St Birinus House
01865 208741 (for Jane Garrard, PA to Bishop of Reading and Lesley Young, Secretary to Bishop of Reading)
01865 208275 (for Alison Taylor, PA to Archdeacon of Berkshire)
01865 208274 (for Marina Melvill-Smith, PA to Associate Archdeacon of Berkshire
Notes to editors
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What has the Diocese of Oxford done so far?
- The Diocesan Synod declared a Climate Emergency in March 2020 and is committed to reaching net-zero target carbon emission by 2035 or as soon as possible thereafter.
- In 2021, the diocese completed its divestment from fossil fuels.
- A leading advocate of fossil fuel divestment within the national Church, in April 2021 Bishop Steven was among 13 peers appointed to the Lords Select Committee for the environment and climate change. Steven has previously called for "nothing less than an ecological conversion of every person and every part of society".
- The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, is a member of the Church of England Environmental Task Group. Bishop Olivia was present at COP26 in Glasgow last year, where she said; “Leaders from all faiths are on the same page about climate chaos and environmental crises.”
- Church House Oxford is powered by renewable electricity. All four bishops in the diocese drive electric vehicles.
- The newly completed Berkshire Area Office, built next to a Grade 1 listed church, is constructed to the best possible energy efficiency standards.
- 120 churches have undertaken energy audits subsidised by the diocese, and currently, 153 churches in the diocese have registered with the Eco Church scheme.
- Added a new commitment to the Commission in the Baptism and Confirmation services based on the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission of safeguarding the integrity of creation.
- Approved £10 million expenditure on environmental works to improve the carbon footprint of vicarages and better care for its clergy.
- Our six-point strategy for the environment:
- Ensuring that everyone has access to resources for prayer, advocacy, and action.
- Nurturing everyday faith and discipleship and creating clear leadership pathways.
- Promoting resilience as churches, schools and communities increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change.
- Achieving our net zero targets – which is happening across a range of different activities
- Ensuring alignment with the call for justice and working in partnership wherever we can.