Twenty years ago St.Mary Magdalene’s was in a sorry state, as the vast building was decaying visibly and its maintenance was well beyond the resources of the small congregation. The Archdeacon of Charing Cross, Dr Bill Jacob, was the consistent presence over the intervening years as with others he sought solutions to the conundrum of what to do with an outstandingly beautiful and important church now anomalously situated on a very un-Anglican council estate (widely perceived as dangerous) and with other churches with better facilities close by. The constraints that had forced such an inventive design on G.E.Street when building the church made it incredibly difficult to use at the end of the twentieth century, because there were steep steps everywhere and difficult, heavy doors, and the only usable space was worship space. In 2016 we still have no running water (or lavatory), a ruinously expensive and noisy heating system, and steps everywhere, but at least we now have a roof and clerestory windows that have been completely renewed and are watertight, a drainage system that actually carries rainwater away instead of depositing it in the building, and an electrical installation that is not actually dangerous (and indeed lights the nave very successfully). The building is now no longer in imminent danger and is ready for the substantial further investment that is necessary for St.Mary Magdalene’s to return to the centre of the community which it serves.
Over the intervening period many different ideas have been explored with a view to developing the building, mostly involving using the dormant undercroft, including a high-end restaurant and office space for community organisations, but it eventually became clear that if St.Mary Magdalene’s was to be brought back to life, the whole building needed to be part of the solution. For more than ten years the PCC has been partnered with Paddington Development Trust, who have been at the heart of community regeneration in Paddington for many years, and who have had more capacity than the PCC to develop this project. Feasibility studies have convinced Westminster City Council and the Diocese of London that this partnership can yield real fruit, and so both have been generous in funding the necessary development work.
The Project aims to make Mary Mags into a heritage, cultural and arts centre for north Paddington, while refurbishing it as a living place of worship. To achieve that, we need to build a new “heritage wing” between the church and St.Mary Magdalene Primary School which will house a lift connecting all levels, lavatories, kitchen, a café at canalside level, and a heritage education room. Inside the church, the painted surfaces of the nave ceiling, the chancel vault and the chancel walls will all be cleaned and conserved, and the stained glass windows repaired. The undercroft will be made usable, a new vestry will be created, and the Comper Chapel conserved.
We are delighted to have backing from lots of community organisations, and were privileged that our recent planning application to WCC attracted over 100 statements of support. We are determined that the Project will enable the building to serve the whole community (and not solely Anglican worshippers) and are very pleased that people of all faiths and none are alongside us in this venture. We were fortunate to achieve Stage1 support from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Project and are now working on our Stage 2 bid. If our bid is successful, not only will the space in which we worship become even more beautiful, but our facilities will enable us to start to do other things for the community. We will at last have lavatories and level access, as well as warm and comfortable spaces, which will transform the welcome we are able to give people. The aims of the Project, to enrich local people’s lives through heritage, art and culture, fit exactly with our own sense of mission, which embraces the approach to God through beauty.
Fr Henry Everett