Heritage Lottery Fund grant to transform St Mary’s Walthamstow – E17’s Ancient Church – into a centre for music, art and culture alongside regular worship
Walthamstow, London will benefit from a National Lottery grant of £1.67 million to restore St Mary’s Walthamstow and to help make the church financially sustainable through the establishment of a music, art and culture centre.
Against strong competition from other heritage sites to secure the money, the church secured initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its Heritage Grants programme, which will fund 12 months of consultation, planning and permissions with the opportunity to claim the full grant in 2018.
The project, which is called ‘A Creative Church for a Creative Community’, will expand the number of people from Waltham Forest able to access and use the church. Alongside regular worship, the church building will be transformed into a centre for music, art and culture activity, both education and events.
If realised in full, the grant would regenerate the Grade II* listed St Mary’s Church, located in Walthamstow Village, by repairing and renovating the fabric of the ancient building, making it more suitable for music, art and cultural activities. St Mary’s foundations date back to the 12th century and it is still the meeting place for Walthamstow’s longest-standing Christian community.
Revd Vanessa Conant, Rector of St Mary’s Church and the Parish of Walthamstow, said: “Walthamstow is a wonderful and exciting community to live in, and it deserves non-commercial spaces which are open to all – spaces of reflection and rejuvenation. My hope is that when people hear the words, ‘St Mary’s Walthamstow’, they will think of a welcoming Christian community where beautiful, creative, inspiring and unexpected things happen. Securing the support of the National Lottery means we can really open up our church building during the week to celebrate and serve our diverse, creative community.”
The initial phase would involve making essential building repairs (including to the roof and walls) and constructing a sensitively designed church extension to provide a new entrance, offices, toilets, a kitchen for catered events and more.
The establishment of a music and arts centre would be the first phase in a wider and separately funded regeneration project that would renovate and repurpose several other under-utilised church buildings near St Mary’s to the benefit of local people, all while protecting the leafy conservation area around the church.
The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, said: “Like looking at the rings of a tree trunk to discover its age, go into almost any parish church in England and you will see in the development, refurbishment and re-ordering of the building the story of that church’s life and mission. In every generation the church needs to look again at its buildings to see how they can best serve the purpose of the church to be a place of gathering and service for the local community. This exciting redevelopment and re-ordering of St Mary’s Walthamstow will enable it to serve its local community more effectively, especially as a centre for arts and music. I applaud the creativity and enterprise of its leaders, and thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for their generous support.”
Stuart Hobley, Head of HLF London, said: “This is an impressive project that maximises National Lottery money to address both the immediate repair needs of this precious historic building and the need to make it sustainable for the future by opening up to the wider community.”
St Mary’s Walthamstow developed its HLF proposal in consultation with the wider Walthamstow community over the past 18 months. A survey commissioned as part of the consultation found that 95 per cent of local people ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that Walthamstow needed more live music venues, with over 91 per cent saying they would be ‘likely’ to ‘very likely’ to attend a gig or concert in the church.
Since the survey was undertaken, St Mary’s has been working with two music promoters who also are also part of the Nest Collective – one of London’s largest world and folk music promoters – on a series of world and folk music events which turn the ancient church into the ‘Saint Mary’s Music Hall’. Hundreds of Walthamstow residents have already attended music events, which showcase renowned artists such as Senegalese kora-playing legend Seckou Keita, award-winning klezmer band She’Koyokh, acclaimed British folk singer Martha Tilston and more.
Cllr Saima Mahmud, former Mayor of Waltham Forest and a Councillor for the Hoe Street Ward (an area which includes St Mary’s), said: “I am absolutely delighted to hear St Mary’s Church has been successful in its bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. I have never seen the church as busy as it is now. It is a cherished community resource and I know it will become an amazing community hub for all. The church has already demonstrated its unwavering determination to find new and creative ways to reach out to people from all different walks of life. With the plans in place, even more people will be able to enjoy the beautiful music, inspiring art exhibitions and welcoming get-togethers in this safe, loving place.”
St Mary’s Walthamstow’s bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was submitted with the support of Spires Heritage, which helps churches and charities find sustainable sources of funding.
About St Mary’s Walthamstow
St Mary’s Church is a diverse and inclusive congregation of 300 people dedicated to making Walthamstow a better place for everyone. St Mary’s supports the local night shelter for those sleeping rough, is a founding member of the Waltham Forest chapter of Citizens UK (an alliance of civil society organisations working for the Common Good) and offers free debt counselling through its Christians Against Poverty Centre. St Mary’s has an active arts group (St Mary’s Arts Collective), an LGBT group (Rainbow Tree) and a programme of youth and children’s work. Revd Vanessa Conant, who was appointed in July 2015, is the first female rector in the church’s 900+ year history. St Mary’s is part of the Church of England, the Diocese of Chelmsford and the Parish of Walthamstow.
The Church Building and its Heritage
St Mary’s Church was built by the Normans in the 12thCentury and has been associated with a number of historically significant people throughout its history, including the founder of the arts and crafts movement, William Morris, who was baptised in the church, and Sir George Monoux, a wealthy Tudor merchant and local benefactor who served as Lord Mayor of London. The church sits at the top of Walthamstow Village, has a working bell tower, extensive churchyards and occupies one of the largest conservation areas in Walthamstow. The church has been greatly altered over the centuries but retains its original Norman foundations and is a nationally listed building, holding Grade II* status.
About Saint Mary’s Music Hall
The Saint Mary’s Music Hall is both a music venue and a concert series showcasing the best in world, folk and jazz music in Walthamstow’s ancient church. Started in 2017 as a partnership between St Mary’s Church, the St Mary’s Arts Collective, SoundThread and two members of the Nest Collective – a London-based world and folk music promoter – the Saint Mary’s Music Hall aims to celebrate the diverse world cultures that make up Walthamstow and London, and to facilitate community and friendship amongst people of all ages and backgrounds in Walthamstow. The London Borough of Waltham Forest is a sponsor. (www.stmarysmusichall.co.uk)
About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Grants applications are assessed in two rounds. A first-found pass is given when HLF has endorsed outline proposals and earmarked funding. A first-round pass may also include an immediate award to fund the development of the project. Detailed proposals are then considered by HLF at second-round and as long as plans have progressed satisfactorily and according to the original proposal, an award for the project is confirmed. Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and use #HLFsupported.