Driving through Sheffield you’d be forgiven for missing St Barnabas Church. It is hidden among the streets of Highfield, and a stranger’s eyes could easily miss the tall structure’s original arched windows, the impertinent tower that rises at the front and the cold stones that envelope all within.
But this is no ordinary church, it is one that has been lovingly converted into a home for older people, with the furnishings and colours that belie the solemn history within its walls.
The church was built in 1850 and was consecrated in 1876, meaning it was given the full blessings just like any other church. It was renovated and converted for Yorkshire Housing in 1985.
For the past seven years independent living officer Beverley Pass has arrived at work every morning to begin her day in a job that she loves. And every day she’s seen a shadowy figure standing at the original, circular window that sits above the entrance at the side of the building. But each time, when she has climbed the stairs to see what, or who, it was, it has disappeared.
Beverly has always had a connection with the ‘other side’ and throughout her life she has seen what she would class as ‘spirits’. But they have never frightened her. And she was never afraid of the morning spirit that lingered in the sunlight at the window at St Barnabas. Yet, she always wondered who it was and why it presented itself at the window each day.
It was only a few weeks ago when Beverley was speaking to another ILO that she had a sudden idea of who the mystery figure could be. The other ILO had asked Beverley whether she knew of anyone who might have died in strange circumstances in and around the building. And like a streak of lightning, Beverley had an idea of who it might be.
According to rumour (and it is difficult to confirm because it was such a long time ago) the architect who designed the conversion was believed to have been found dead before the completion of the building and there was no cause of death recorded – as far as we can tell.
When Beverley realised this, she devised a loving plan for the ‘ghost with no name’. The next day, she went to the same spot where she usually spotted the figure and, gently, she spoke to it. “This is a beautiful building,” she said. “You did an excellent job on this and the residents here are very happy. Thank you.”
The next morning Beverley arrived at work as usual and glanced to the spot at the window. But the figure was not there. And she hasn’t seen it since.
“I hope whatever it was that it heard me and went on to somewhere better”, said Beverley. “I still have never seen the figure since that day I spoke to him so I can only think he is at peace now and happy in the fact that people are so happy and grateful to him for the masterpiece he created. Seems like he just wanted someone to acknowledge what he’d done and tell him so, bless him.”
Residents of the old church deny having seen anything ghoulish or hearing any bumps or scratches in the night. One woman said she wouldn’t be living there if she had.
So as the sun sets on this magnificent building and the shadows are stitched together by the night, the residents of St Barnabas rest safe and sound in their stone shell. Most aren’t phased by the spooky spectre that was haunting the window, and, like normal, they sit in the communal room reading the papers and chatting about the news like every other day.
There are probably hundreds of old churches in Sheffield, each one a reminder of another time, another era and a smaller community. They were the hub of these communities, a place of solace and comfort. And yet today St Barnabas is exactly the same thing; a beautiful building being used in exactly the fashion for which it was designed – bringing comfort and peace to those who need it, whether dead or alive.