Green light for trail-blazing church project in Paddington
This Tuesday evening Westminster Council gave the green light to plans to revitalise one of England’s most magical churches, St Mary Magdalene’s in Paddington. The council’s planning committee has approved a new building to adjoin the church, which will provide new facilities allowing St Mary Magdalene’s to operate as a centre for arts and heritage.
This is a milestone decision in a ten year campaign to conserve and develop this iconic church. Built in the 1860s-70s by G.E. Street (architect of the Royal Courts of Justice) this Grade 1 listed building is a treasure house of Victorian art and decoration, but classified as a building “at risk” by Historic England. Since 2005 Paddington Development Trust has been working with the church, residents, and Westminster Council to produce a viable plan for its future – one that puts local people at the heart of its cultural regeneration.
The new building has been ingeniously designed by Dow Jones Architects to provide an airy new learning centre and canal-side café, as well as modern essentials that the church building currently lacks, such as toilets and level access. The new space will unlock the potential of the church for much wider public use and enjoyment, including as an arts venue.
As well as building the new Heritage Centre, the £6.8m project will substantially conserve and repair the historic fabric of the church, revealing its former glory. £4.3m has already been identified from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, leaving an appeal target of £2.5m to be raised by next July. The new building is due to open to the public in 2018. John Julius, Lord Norwich – patron of the appeal and a local resident – said:
“This is wonderful news indeed, one of London’s loveliest Victorian churches will be reborn.”
Over 100 residents and local organisations have written to Westminster Council supporting the proposals. Parish priest, Fr Henry Everett said:
“I am delighted that the planners have recognised local people’s desire to bring this building back to life. We must now get down to the serious business of fundraising to make it a reality and to transform the lives of local people.”
The vision of a restored ‘Mary Mags’ is of a place that builds common values and community in 21st century London. The project will sustain an active church as window to English art, culture and history, whilst at the same time uncovering the rich ‘living heritage’ of Paddington’s communities, which come from all over the world. Margot Bright, a local supporter, said:
“I’m very excited. This is exactly what we need to bring new life and energy to the area. The focus on heritage and art can really help bring together people of different backgrounds and faiths.”
Mary Mags is at the forefront of new and emerging policies within the Church of England designed to keep churches open as places of worship whilst realising their potential for imaginative new community uses. The partnership with Paddington Development Trust aims to pioneer a way forward for other endangered historic churches. Neil Johnston, PDT Chief Executive said:
“The St Mary Magdalene restoration is one of most exciting projects in London and a test case for new church policies. The local support has been tremendous and we are very grateful to everyone who has helped so far.”