St Mary Magdalene’s Church on the canal at Paddington, with Little Venice on one side and Warwick Estate on the other, has undergone a major restoration that will preserve a unique slice of the nation’s heritage, as well as meeting a very real community need.
St Mary Mags, as it is affectionately known, is widely recognised as George Edmund Street’s masterpiece in London, built while he was working on the Royal Courts of Justice. It's Grade I and was a favourite of Betjeman’s but in the later 20th century it fell into decay and was placed on the 'heritage at risk' register.
The church has been transformed into a community and heritage hub serving one of the most religiously and culturally diverse wards in London, with the help of £75,000 funding from Allchurches Trust.
The undercroft, which was a film set for Les Miserables and once graced by Australian actor Hugh Jackman, will now be a space for adult education and arts activities, as well as benefiting children from the neighbouring primary school. A community café and open space is a place for locals to meet with space for children to play.
St Mary Mags has become a heritage, cultural and arts centre for north Paddington, while remaining a living place of worship. A new ‘heritage wing’, called Grand Junction, has been created between the church and St Mary Magdalene Primary School, which houses a lift connecting all levels, a bar, a kitchen, a volunteer room, toilets, the Allchurches Trust canalside café and an education space.
Inside the church, the painted surfaces of the nave ceiling, the chancel vault and the chancel walls have all been cleaned and conserved, and the stained glass windows repaired.
The undercroft has been transformed into a flexible, accessible community and events space and is encouraging footfall in the local area, helping to revitalise the district centre, whilst connecting local neighbourhoods and developments around Paddington.
Local people have worked with an artist to design and create the tiles that sit within special recesses in the walls. Along with a timeline on the stairs, these tell the 200-year story of St Mary Mags.
It has been important to the community to be involved in the project, and on evaluation, 80% of participants said they felt more connected to the development because of this and 84% stated they’d like to take part in future volunteering projects.
“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
Grand Junction has delivered some exciting events since opening in 2019, including music and dance festivals and educational and spiritual events.
In March 2020, Grand Junction had to temporarily close due to COVID-19 restrictions, having had a successful first few months, with overall visitors (including worshippers) reaching 35,685!
With a second lockdown in November 2020, it has been a challenging start for the new arts and community centre, but it has adapted to continue to reach local people.
Many of its classes and activities have moved online, with a bank of educational resources and live interactive sessions available at https://grandjunction.org.uk.
In 2021, Grand Junction will be curating a winter season of live-streamed art events and will be moving forwards with the conservation of the Holy Sepulchre Chapel.
Despite the inevitable stresses at this stage in the project’s life and the challenges posed by the pandemic a year after the launch of Grand Junction, its response to the pandemic has demonstrated its value to its communities and its resilience.