Paisley Methodist Central Halls

Paisley Doors Open Day 2019

This was another building that I was very familiar with from the outside but had no idea about what it was like inside until last year. I didn’t even realise it was a church until I was a teenager. Apparently it is the only Central Hall still in use in Scotland and it’s a really interesting and, I think, appealing set up for a church with a genuine commitment to the community in which it was located.

The building was purpose-built in 1908 and designed by the architects Watson and Salmond. Its style is Free Renaissance and it does not immediately look like a church building. As was the custom with other Methodist Central Halls, at ground level shop space was created so as to bring in an income for the church from rent. The main doors are in the middle of four shop fronts and the main auditorium is upstairs. There are a number of smaller halls available for community use within the building.

The idea behind it was that it provided a social space where families could meet and gather without the temptations of alcohol or gambling. Many of the church members would have signed the Temperance Pledge and the congregation had amongst its members a man named John Slack, a notorious drunkard who came to God and sobered up, becoming an important member of the congregation.

The auditorium was designed as an entertainment space – not simply as a church. On Saturday evenings concerts were held and for a time (after the fatal fire at the nearby Glen Cinema) it also functioned as a cinema space. The acoustics are phenomenal and some of the best, if not the best, in the west of Scotland for this type of space.

Although the exterior is in a Free Renaissance style, much of the interior including the windows is Art Nouveau.

There are also many halls that can be used for community events – the model railway society had a display on while we were there as did the Paisley Photographic Society. I rather like to see a building designed to play a real part in the community especially one that still has a part to play in the community today.

There was also a small social area outside the main auditorium that made it seem like a home away from home – albeit with some rather interesting Paisley pattern wallpaper – on brand I suppose for a room that overlooks two of the town’s most important buildings, the Abbey and the Town Hall.

It is also rare that I would pass up an opportunity to explore the bits of a building which are not always open to the public!

Writing Prompt

Think of a building that you are familiar with that is used as a multi-purpose space. What conflicts might arise between different groups who use the building? Who gets to decide which groups are allowed to use it? What conflicts might arise if a group is not allowed to use it? Would any kind of shop be allowed to rent the shop fronts? How might the owner of the building try to support new or struggling businesses?

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