The Mary Mags Project

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.

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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.

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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

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Press Release

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.

mary_mags9The 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.”