A CHURCH is the last place atheist Jessica Flinn-Allen thought she would find herself – but that’s where she spends most of her time now after converting a chapel into her dream home.
Jessica, 34, and her husband Ollie Allen, 35, bought the disused Methodist church in 2012 for £145,000, after it popped up on RightMove.
And the couple, who have two children together, have spent £250,000 over the past 11 years transforming the dilapidated building in the Peak District, near Sheffield, into their family abode. And it’s now worth an incredible £750,000.
However, it is not without its quirks.
Jessica jokes despite not believing in God, strange things have happened in the night.
“We’re complete atheists; we’re not religious at all. We joke that we’re definitely going to hell now, if there is anything out there,” Jessica said.
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“When we moved in, there were hymn books that we tried to donate but no one wanted them, so we ended up having to burn a couple of them on a huge bonfire – so on the other side, we’ll be sent down, not up.
“In the early days of doing the renovation we got broken into and a few bits and bobs were stolen, so we were a bit on edge and installed an alarm. Then in the middle of winter, at 10pm at night, it went off.
“Ollie went to have a look around and everything was dark and quiet so he flipped on the light on the switch board and at the end of the church a neon cross lit up, and he said he’s never run out of a building so fast in his life.
“It had a classic office lightbulb on so it slowly came on and crackled into existence.
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"It was just like in a creepy movie. He said he’d never been so scared. We’ve now got the cross in our kitchen.”
Jessica admits that the history of the house means that dead bodies have frequented their home regularly.
“Our neighbours told us they had been to christenings, weddings and funerals when it was a chapel – so there have been dead bodies where we live,” she says.
“But fortunately there aren’t any cemeteries nearby.
“Apart from that, it’s very homely and cosy, and I never get spooky vibes when I’m alone in the house.”
Jessica, who runs her own jewellery business – Jessica Flinn, and Ollie first saw the property for sale on RightMove in 2012 and thought “why not?”.
Once they got the keys the following year, they got to work renovating the property, including adding an outdoor kitchen and upgrading stained glass windows.
Everything other than the walls and floor needed to be upgraded, renovated or removed. The chapel was connected to electricity but had no water or gas. Plus, there were issues with the planning stipulations.
Ollie gave up work for a year and a half to work on the project, and in 2014, the couple moved into their new home, which had no staircase, and only had one room with carpet.
Jessica explained: “It was carnage. The kitchen was partially finished, with functional elements in place but lacking final touches. But we were still working on selecting and arranging furniture and decor.
“The idea was to create a space that felt like a tranquil retreat in the countryside, yet still close to the city.
“We aimed for a harmonious balance between old and new, where the original features of the church would seamlessly coexist with contemporary design elements.”
Between 2015 and 2020, Jessica says the house was “pretty much there”; it was functional and the couple brought it their own style, with colourful and playful furnishings. Then, the property was transformed again, turning it into the home it is today.
“In the key rooms, we made significant changes to create functional and stylish spaces. In the kitchen, we installed modern appliances, functional workspaces, and stylish cabinetry,” Jessica said.
“The lounge area underwent a transformation, featuring a double-height space with a freestanding log-burning stove as the centrepiece.
“Bedrooms were personalised with unique decor and colour schemes to create individual havens, while bathrooms were carefully designed to offer both functionality and aesthetic appeal.
“There were stages to the journey to get where we are now. Now is when it feels like an established, put-together home.”
Jessica said she wanted to keep as much as possible from the original church – including the Hollow Meadows sign that was on the outside of the building, which now hangs in the living room like a piece of art.
And there’s a “quirky sign” above the door to the kitchen that says ‘Sunday at 6pm’, which was when the service used to be held.
However, not all Jessica’s intentions to keep the features of the church worked out.
“We spent a lot of money getting the pews converted into free-standing ones to use as chairs for the dining table.
"Visually, they looked great and in-keeping with the church, but they were so uncomfortable and impractical for day-to-day life, so they’ve been put down in the cellar,” Jessica said.
Jessica admits the renovation project has been a labour of love, sweat and tears.
But the former chapel is now bursting with colour and unusual furnishings – just how the couple, who live in the church with their two children, Carmen, seven, and Robin, five, like it.
Jessica believes the home is worth around £750,000 – but the couple aren’t in a hurry to move.
She added: “In the beginning, we did everything on a budget. Now we have more disposable budget as we’re in a better position.
"So we’ve bought nice bits of furniture. We’ve gone for lots of Farrow & Ball, as well as natural shades with a pop of colour.
“We will continue to evolve and enhance our living spaces, infusing them with our unique design sensibilities and creating a home that truly reflects our personal style.
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“As for selling the property, we see it as a long-term investment and a place where our family can continue to thrive.
“We have a strong emotional connection to our church home and currently have no plans to sell it.”
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