Background

Why does our neighbourhood want or need such a space? The answer to that lies in St Mary’s history and community.

St Mary’s was built in 1874 as a church for the servants of Eaton Square and the poor in the nearby slums of Pimlico.  From the start it ran an active programme for its congregation including sewing classes, working men’s clubs and charabanc outings. Every week the parish newsletter provided space for local craftsmen to advertise their services alongside the traditional notices of births, marriages and deaths.

Now St Mary’s finds itself in one of the wealthiest areas of London, unrecognisable to the community for which it was built. There are fewer families, many homes are empty at the weekends, and the increasingly elderly long-term residents have found themselves more isolated. The evident wealth of its immediate surrounds masks increasing inequality which continues to grow, and Westminster Council has identified loneliness and isolation as one of its social priorities.

St Mary’s will use the upcoming anniversary as a springboard for a renewed programme of social action with this new facility at its centre. The local area has very few public spaces and this will provide a hub for social programmes such as lunch clubs for the elderly, and therapeutic initiatives such as Music for Dementia and Dance for Parkinsons.  It will also provide a venue for community events such as children’s parties or yoga classes.  In an increasingly fragmented world, St Mary’s will provide a neighbourhood hub for local residents as well as the wider community.

Autumn Update

BACKGROUND

Following on from the Spring leaflet entitled ‘St Mary’s going forward’ you will know we have this year been engaged in a process of discernment and consultation about a possible building project here at St Mary’s Bourne St as part of our wider preparation for the celebration of our 150th in 2024.

A joint Away Day with the PCC and St Mary’s Trust earlier in the year led to a process of consultation with the wider congregation over two possible schemes, a larger and more expensive one over against a smaller and more modest one.  Both addressed the requirements of a better provision of meeting and social space and (at least as important) better connectivity and access around the site with proper disabled access and a better provision of lavatories and other facilities as well. These were displayed, an open meeting was held and written opinions were invited……

PROJECT UPDATE

We received fifteen responses in the end:  only one felt the status quo was adequate, none supported the larger scheme and, whilst four were concerned about the likelihood of funding, all the rest bar one were positively in favour of every aspect of the smaller scheme.

The PCC and Trustees have now subsequently met.  All agreed unanimously that the status quo was unacceptable and all agreed unanimously that we should pursue the smaller scheme (a proportion of PCC members additionally hoped we could go further towards the larger scheme but that is off the table for now).

We have been advised that the new hall proposed to be created within the Presbytery is likely to be eligible for some outside funding as providing a community resource and so would be a matter of public benefit and external finance.  This means we will be looking to you and to the congregation as a whole  for help with the finances of a part of the costs of the whole project but only a part. And as well as improving our facilities for ourselves and future members of the congregation we will of course be securing some additional income from the rental of the new hall during the week; and, moreover, since the use of the new hall should bring other groups and people onto Church premises who otherwise would not know that we were here we can hope for some mission possibilities as well as better community relations. 

NEXT STEPS – THE ‘PINEAPPLE’ PROJECT

It was about 100 years ago that the former Public House known as the Pineapple was bought by the parish and was converted into our existing presbytery, the remodelling being completed by the architect HS.Goodhart-Rendel in 1922.  So in the run up to St Mary’s 150th anniversary we are looking to return the ground floor of the Presbytery to a more public and social space.  Hence the name of our ongoing project…

The more detailed plans for the proposed scheme are now displayed in the Presbytery dining room and comments, suggestions and alterations are all still possible to make – please do so in writing (email or letter) to the parish office over the next few weeks.  We will be inviting our local Councillors and other church and civic bodies to comment at the same time. 

Since outside bodies won’t make any grants until the necessary planning permissions have been granted our architect will begin that process whilst we establish any and all likely sources of funding.  These are likely to comprise Community monies, Charitable Trusts and Livery Companies and local funds.

These next steps will be steered by an in house committee comprising myself, and representatives of the PCC, of the Trust and of the congregation.  This group will be tasked to explore the viability of the scheme as it stands and its funding and will meet from this autumn until the end of 2020.  Then the PCC and Trust will have to judge whether we can proceed or should look at some more modest scheme.  

If you already have ideas of sources of funding, connections that might be of benefit or are in a position to commit a significant gift for this project do speak to me.  Other fund raising opportunities will no doubt arise (!) but I hope we won’t lose sight of the fact in all this that our wider aim is that St Mary’s can continue to thrive for the glory and praise of God and for generations of worshippers to come and that anything we do in terms of buildings and plant is to ensure that St Mary’s distinctive mission and outreach is embodied and energised for many more years to come.  Which is why I would be grateful if you could all join me in praying and  continuing to pray for God’s guidance with this project and His help in ensuring our shared charge always to witness to the Gospel be never forgotten.    

May Our Lady of Peace pray for us too!

Fr Andrew Walker. Parish Priest

St Mary’s Going Forward

INTRODUCTION

St Mary’s will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2024. Marking this significant milestone in the life of the parish merits careful consideration so that St Mary’s can continue to thrive for the glory and praise of God and generations of worshippers to come. 

I write the following in the hope of involving as many of the congregation and our friends as possible in our thoughts and plans; for, as well as the proper liturgical celebration and events, there is also the possibility of carrying out works on the parish buildings to ensure that St Mary’s distinctive mission and outreach is embodied and energised for many more years to come.

With that in mind, early in 2019 the PCC and St Mary’s Trust came together for a time of discernment as how best to mark this anniversary in such a way as to reflect our particular and special charism as a church.  Both bodies have distinctive and interlocking stewardship of the complex of buildings that serve St Mary’s, and the day brought together these two overlapping groups of people for collective exploration, mutual learning, and shared reflection of what the vision might be and how it might be brought into being.

The aim at this early stage was most importantly to consider the prior and deeper question about the charism of St Mary’s which inspires us all. And having done so, then to ask what should characterise our marking of the 150th Anniversary.  That group judged what might best characterise our marking of the 150th Anniversary could be gathered under six headings:

  1. Celebratory Liturgies
  2. Action on Evangelism (educational & other initiatives)
  3. Celebratory & Community Events (for the wider community)
  4. An Anniversary Appeal (for ourselves and/or others)
  5. Creating Community (for the Church membership)
  6. Facilities for the Future (buildings – and lavatories!)

We also judged that the next step was to engage with the wider congregation, at first about the possible building projects, and so to extend the conversation to include us all.  This exercise of an information leaflet and accompanying display boards is very much part of that attempt to engage with you all about nurturing the tradition we have received, and are a part of, as well as to enable it for the generations to come.

BUILDING MATTERS

We have here a range of buildings, some listed and some not, all of interest but of variable design, constructed on different levels, with different access points and not always properly interconnected.  Yet St Mary’s is the spiritual home for many – of past and present, of local and dispersed as well, we hope, of the future and presently unknown.  We, the congregation of today, are part of the unfolding narrative of God’s people in this place; custodians with a responsibility to nurture the place and make it fit for this time and season as well as for the future. But our present facilities aren’t really suitable nor accessible enough nor is where we meet for drinks after Sunday Mass large enough   As Gladstone, one time Prime Minister and occasional visitor to St Mary’s, once memorably commented, ‘No ritual is too much, provided it is subsidiary to the inner work of worship; and all ritual is too much, unless it ministers to that purpose.’  What of the essence of worship and our present buildings?  What might happen in bricks and mortar to enhance our common life and mission? For ourselves and for others?

Crossing the threshold of a church is like entering a conversation.  How easy or difficult is it to enter and join in we might ask? A building such as the Presbytery can feel as if its back is turned to us.  The Church though is more approachable – especially when one is greeted by a smile from a Sidesperson on entering at the time of Mass – and you feel you are in the right place, reassured there’s nothing to fear.  With the Presbytery though some sort of advance knowledge is required – how best to get in, where to go once inside, best for those already in the know.  And with both there is the question of the differently abled and less ambulant, of access in and out and to lavatories for wheelchair users.  What of welcome is made to them by all our buildings?  As one Church building commentator, Nigel Walter, has commented, ‘most congregations describe themselves as welcoming – and none are as welcoming as they think they are!’  

SUMMARY OF POSSIBLE DEVELOPMENTS

Early in 2018 the architect Matthew Lloyd was appointed by St Mary’s Trust after a competitive selection process to address the need for work to the Presbytery to bring it up to date with new fire and safety regulations.  He was also asked to reflect on the mix of buildings around the church generally (the cottage, the Presbytery, the Bell house at no 26 Graham Terrace and the spaces between) to see if some enhancement could take place to address the requirements of a better provision of meeting and social space and (at least as important) better connectivity and access around the site with proper disabled access and a better provision of lavatories and other facilities as well.

In the autumn he met with various stakeholders who use the premises and over time and with feedback evolved two possible schemes (which are not in fact mutually exclusive).

Both schemes address the issue of flow and connectivity:  both would involve a new door leading from church, situated under the organ gallery and to the side of the font.  This would run beneath the organ gallery access walkway and these would be enclosed.  It would then lead to a reception area situated roughly where the cottage courtyard currently is – with disabled and other lavatories leading off in one direction, a new lift and staircase running between the basement, ground and first floors (providing a new main entrance to the Victoria School of English), and access in to the new hall as well as, in the case of the smaller scheme, the courtyard.   

The larger scheme would involve the demolition of the Bell house and the creation of a hall/meeting space (for about 100 people) covering the courtyard and the ground floor of the Bell house.  Three flats above it would be additionally created within a tower structure that copies somewhat the original bell tower envisaged for the church but which was never built because of the second war.  A fourth flat would be created on the ground floor of the Presbytery. This scheme would cost approximately £8.5 million to bring about.

The smaller scheme focusses on the ground floor of the Presbytery and those parts of it that have been incorporated in the cottage dwelling and would create a smaller hall/meeting space (for about 60 people) at the front with a new kitchen running between it and the courtyard.  This scheme would cost approx. £2.5 million to complete.

The plans on display show both the larger ‘Bell house’ scheme and the smaller ‘Presbytery’ scheme with some responses made about both from various informal consultations.  Note again it would be possible to do the smaller scheme first and look to the second one later if that was what was wished.

CONCLUSION

Our task now is to judge what is the right way forward for us. Please pass onto me any thoughts you may have (in writing by letter or email to the office) as the PCC and Trustees will need in the summer to look at our next steps.  All Churches are places of Gospel encounters, always providing the possibility of dynamic, disturbing, comforting epiphanies.  I hope whatever we decide to do, and how we go about doing it, will be part of the dynamic, disturbing and ultimately comforting epiphany into which here, as elsewhere, our God is always inviting us.

Fr Andrew Walker, Parish Priest – March 2019