The Church of England has launched a competition for design students, designers, manufacturers and contractors to design a new form of church seating.

In recent years, many churches have replaced traditional wooden pews with more flexible modern seating, often in the form of rather ugly modern chairs.

Janet Gough, director of the Archbishops' Council's Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, said: "Some re-ordering schemes are being compromised by the installation of unsuitable chairs which fail to complement historic interiors, whilst others fail to meet the objectives of the parish in practical terms."

Anne Sloman, who chairs the Church Buildings Council, added: "The intention of the competition is to inspire high quality church seating designs (both chairs and benches) that can be retailed at an affordable price. The real challenge will be to see whether comfort and practicality can be combined with good and new design which is sympathetic to historic interiors."

The competition has two categories:

1. Design a chair to retail under £100, open to students and recent graduates.

Brief: To design a chair that is light, stackable and ergonomic whilst sympathetic with historic interiors.

Prize: Finalists will have the chance to pitch their design to church seating manufacturers and to win a cash honorarium.

2. Design a seat (bench or chair) for parish churches, open to all.

Brief: To design a church seat (bench designs welcomed) to meet the criteria outlined in category 1 but within an 'affordable' price range.

Award: Finalists will be invited to submit models or prototypes to display at the awards event. The winning design will be used in a campaign to encourage parishes to seek good design in church seating.

Designs must be:

• ergonomic,

• sympathetic to historic interiors,

• sufficiently robust for regular use requiring minimum maintenance,

• comfortable without upholstery,

• suitable for use on historic floors,

• able to stack or fold compactly,

• lightweight

• suitable for mass production,

• with the option to be linked, and of having a book holder and chair arms.

The judging panel will be chaired by the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, Bishop of London. It will include furniture designer and maker John Makepeace, illustrator Matthew Rice, The Revd Stephen Mason, Vicar of St John's, Hyde Park, and Anne Sloman.

Entries must be submitted by March 30, and the results will be announced at an awards ceremony on June 14 at St John's Church, Hyde Park accompanied by an exhibition of finalists' chairs.

Further information and application forms at