Making the most of a public space

by Fran Francis of Shore Vineyards

Over 20 years’ experience in rented halls comes to you right here!

Use your senses: Sight (add light or colour). Smell (add a reed diffuser – not too feminine/flowery. Go for fresh). Sound (add floor coverings to help absorb sound). Feel (add screens/arrange seating in a way that feels humane). Taste (how’s the hospitality? Good coffee? Great baking?).

People don’t like to rattle around in a space that is too big, nor to be jammed into a space that is too small. People need about a square metre each to feel “just right”. If you don’t have that much room for each person – time to move! In fact, if your space is 70% full people will perceive it as too crowded so you will lose them.

If the space is big you have to make it more intimate and the best way is with screens. Large “office divider” screens arranged in a semi-circle at the end of the hall going lengthways will draw the eye to that point. That’s where the worship team will stand and you can arrange seating in one block or two (with a central aisle) according to your numbers and the kind of seats you have. Hessian from Spotlight or Harveys is an affordable way to change the colour scheme. Velcro strips along the top of the fabric, which just happens to be the perfect width for those screens, makes it easy to attach. You can then use this backdrop to hang a painting, an A1 poster that illustrates the sermon theme or hang a wreath at Christmas…

This semi-circle of screens can be placed as far forward or back in the space as you need. For example, in the summer numbers are often reduced while families are on holiday so move the screens forward to create a smaller gathering area and put out fewer chairs. On special days such as Christmas Eve or Easter, move it back so there is room to accommodate visitors.

Why a semi-circle? Because curves are organic and “friendlier” than hard lines.

Folding Japanese-style screens from The Warehouse or folding fabric screens off TradeMe are lightweight and relatively cheap. Use these to create the same effect if you don’t have access to 2m x 140 office screens. They are easier to store, which is often an issue in rented spaces.

Vintage standard lamps with or without shades are great for brightening the room. Or go for an industrial look if that fits better

Dampening sound on wooden floors can be achieved by using carpet runners. Anything from hardwearing rubber-backed “garage” carpet from The Warehouse to vintage Axminster-patterned hall runners could be considered. We have used a combination of charcoal grey rubber-backed commercial carpet with colourful Trade Aid rugs to cheer things up a bit. Make sure you eliminate trip and slip hazards – remember your “public liability”! We taped ours to the floor each week, covering sound leads and cords at the same time.

What’s the lighting like in your space? Too gloomy? Vintage standard lamps with or without shades are great for brightening the room. Or go for an industrial look if that fits better. The design rule for lighting is three points of light in a domestic room – scale it up for your space. In fact, three is pretty much the magic number. If you can’t afford a big semi-circle of screens, which would likely be seven, get three and space them out a little bit.

Make sure the tea and coffee area is attractive and accessibe. We used to use two vintage drop-sided wooden tables (easier storing) and coffee plungers, matching teapots and polka dot cake tins with the week’s baking in them. At another venue we used two trestle tables with covers made from coffee sacks to disguise the trestle. A layer of clear plastic from Spotlight protected the fabric from inevitable spills.

Change it up seasonally. How can you make it special for Holy Days? Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas, baby dedications, Mother’s and Father’s Days, or special preaching themes. This is your shop window – dress it up!