New mission for St Paul’s

“JOB one is figuring out what needs to stay, what needs to go,” says Nathan Males.

“After 180 years, a building like this has naturally accumulated a lot of … stuff.” He’s talking about St. Paul’s, the former church on Burnett Street in New Norfolk, which he bought just a week or so ago. It will be a multiple purpose arts and community centre, he considers.

“This lovely old building was meant to draw in local people, and we’re returning it to that use.” Built in 1836, this was the oldest Methodist church in Australia.

It served faithfully for 184 years, closing its doors just two years ago as Covid restrictions and a declining congregation took their toll. The new owner looks around the chapel.

The Australian red cedar pews and a mezzanine floor are obviously going to stay. The same is true for eight cathedral glass windows, in the characteristic gothic arch shape. Exceptionally beautiful, several were installed in memory of early pioneers in the Valley. But the chapel’s red carpet, well past its use-by date, is already on its way out the door. With a boxful of old photographs and other records, Nathan clearly loves the history of this place. He’s not a religious man, more interested in how the church can again serve the community.

His attraction was seeing it as a collection of spaces, with the original church at the front, a large auditorium at the rear, and a lovely little theatre space between. And he’s enjoying the ambiance of the building.

“In here, you could be anywhere, miles away from the town and the outside world,” he says. From an internal courtyard space, Nathan looks around. “These three elements, the way they’re built, that’s what dictates how they‘re going to be used,” he says. “My job is simply to get them cleaned, spruced up and ready.”

The centre section, with its small stage, was used as a Sunday school from the time of its completion in 1937. “We’ll call it the Sunday Studio.”

In Nathan’s planning, it’s ideal for yoga classes, or as a theatre rehearsal space – just about anything suited to smaller groups. At the rear is larger hall built in 1962, capable of comfortably holding 200 people. “Again, a perfect space for community purposes, particularly something like a ballet school,” says Nathan.

He’s named the space Studio 62, and is already asking around for those interested. He points out the building already has the appropriate occupancy certificates and permits needed for a place of public assembly. And in its future use, it doesn’t need to make a profit, he considers.

“As long as we can cover insurance and the power bills, I’ll be happy with that as a commercial proposition.”

A possible future addition is some accommodation upstairs. Outside, he notes, is the original columbarium, a wall in which funeral urns are stored. That will remain in place.

Nathan is CEO and co-founder of a software company called Myfoodlink, which works with food and liquor outlets to take their business online. Locally, his roots run deep; he lived in the Valley for 10 years, refurbishing a home in Lachlan. In the arts world, he’s worked closely with Salamanca Arts Centre and is currently chair of Derwent Valley Arts. Already forming in his mind is the first event in the chapel, a classical music concert he’s planning for October this year.

But before then, that carpet has just got to go.