A Somerset church which served as a community hub during weeks of flooding could be greatly enhanced following a district council grant.

The small village of Muchelney, near Langport on the Somerset Levels, was cut off from road traffic for more than 10 weeks during the disastrous floods of 2013/14.

During this time, St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church became a focal point for the affected community, acting as a post office, doctors’ surgery, shop, information hub and a café for the crews manning the boats travelling to and from the village.

South Somerset District Council has now agreed to provide £12,500 towards installing new toilets in the first phase of a wider scheme to turn the church into a more accessible community hub.

The grade one listed church, which has been around in its current form since the 15th century, lies near the historic Muchelney Abbey (which is maintained by English Heritage) and The Priest’s House (which is run by the National Trust).

During the 2013/14 floods, children had to be boated in and out of the village to go to school, with the church’s vicar arriving by boat to conduct Sunday services.

The funding to improve the church was agreed unanimously at a virtual meeting of the council’s area north committee on Wednesday afternoon (December 15).

Adrian Moore, the council’s locality officer, said in his written report: “The terrible experience of the flooding actually inspired Muchelney to press on with plans to make the church a community centre for all the village.

“Many parochial church councils the length and breadth of England are looking to increase the value to the local community of the churches they care for.

“They still wish them to be places of worship, but recognise that, by careful adaptation of the space within and around them, they can become wider community centres for all the residents of their parish.”

The Church of England granted full permission for an external, fully accessible toilet in January 2020, with planning permission also being granted by the council.

Installing the toilet is expected to cost £72,500, including construction costs and fees for both architects and archaeologists.

To date, grants have been secured from the Somerset Community Foundation (£10,600), the Clark Foundation (£7,000), Awards for Alls (£5,000), Church Walking Pilgrimages (£5,000) and the Somerset Churches Trust (£3,000).

Decisions on further grant funding applications are still pending – including £10,000 from the Prince’s Countryside Fund.

Installing the toilet is the first phase in the redevelopment of the church, with future phases including the installation of a kitchenette, related storage and the removal of a small number of pews to make more room for social events.

Councillor Mike Stanton, whose Burrow Hill ward includes the site, said: “I know how hard people in Muchelney have worked on this over the years.

“It is really good to see any village wanting to use its facilities more effectively. Making the church more widely usable by the community, as it was during the floods in 2014, is  a really big step forward.”

Councillor Clare Paul – who helped to raise money for flooding victims through her Much Thorn Flood Wings charity – added: “This church continues to be the hub of the community for all sorts of events. I’m fully behind this.”

After less than half an hour’s discussion, the committee voted unanimously to approve the grant.