Creative Church Project
In 2015, an architect’s report indicated we had to make urgent repairs to St Mary’s ancient building – the roof, render and other parts of the fabric were in poor condition. However, as we looked at how we might fund repairs, we began to dream about whether we might do something bigger.
One of our challenges – and something we often hear from local people – is that our building is regularly locked. There are many reasons as to why this is the case, but the primary one is that our church offices are across the churchyard in the church hall, a separate building. We also have funding challenges – we receive no money from the government (other than reclaimed tax through Gift Aid) or the Church of England yet we have to find ways of keeping the building open and in good repair.
So as we began to think and dream together, our goal became much bigger than simply trying to find a way to get the building repaired – it became to find a way to make our ancient building the heart of Walthamstow once again, as it has been in centuries past, and in so doing to make it accessible and financially sustainable. Church of England churches exist for the flourishing of the whole community, and we want our building to be safe, welcoming and accessible to everyone in Walthamstow.
In 2017, we convened a group of artists, designers, musicians and writers from St Mary’s to create a funding proposal incorporating research we conducted with nearly a thousand local people about how they would like to use the building. The survey results were overwhelming: people wanted to use the building for creative activities, and were particularly keen to see more concerts in the church.
We called our proposal, A Creative Church for a Creative Community, and it won £1.67 million in Heritage Lottery funding. With additional outside funding, our project will cost over £3 million in total and will regenerate Walthamstow’s oldest building, making it an arts centre/ cafe/ meeting space/ education space/ working church – all of which is in keeping with our vision for St Mary’s and with wider community interests, and all of which will allow us to get the building open throughout the week.
We plan to begin renovations in the second half of 2021 and finish by the second half of 2022. When our project is completed, St Mary’s will be a centre of Arts, Prayer and Transformation with a building open during the week, in the day, with a cafe run by wonderful local partners who currently run a popular local coffee shop.
The changes to the building and church property will include an extension which will create an additional entrance into the building, an art gallery/ community meeting space, and church offices; outside, the current car park will be turned into a landscaped public area for pedestrians to enjoy.
In the church itself, we will take out the pews and replace them with flexible cathedral-style seating which will drastically increase the number and variety of activities we can have in the church. A new kitchen will be installed with a serving window for outside customers. The current entrance will be preserved, but a new glass door will get more light through while keeping the current door in place and open in the day.
We will install new lighting, movable screens, a new sound system and renovate the two back vestries as meeting spaces. The church’s two existing toilets will be renovated and three additional toilets will be added. A new door next to the side chapel will make it easier to access the back vestry, and a new staircase will make the gallery more accessible. Inconspicuous storage will be added throughout the building to allow us to hide away chairs and tables. A new Heritage space will also be added as you walk through the current entrance into the building, providing a museum-calibre display about the history and heritage of the building. Outside, the render will be repaired and cleaned and the roof will be repaired.
We’re excited to make St Mary’s the heart of Walthamstow again, and to give Walthamstow a creative church for a creative community!