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£2m revamp on way for historic St Mary’s church

‘Heart of Islington’ project will restore building plagued with ‘enormous list of little problems’

31 March, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Rev Simon Harvey: ‘Big opportunity to make a huge difference for community’

A £2m project to rejuvenate a historic Islington church is underway.

The “Heart of Islington” project is the biggest refurbishment of St Mary’s Church, in Upper Street, since it was rebuilt after being bombed on the third night of the Blitz.

The church was redesigned by renowned architects Seely and Paget and built by local builders Dove Brothers.

It is now on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register and by the church’s own admission has “an enormous list of little problems”.

The portico front of the building is rapidly deteriorating due to issues with the underlying steelwork.

St Mary’s vicar the Rev Simon Harvey said: “We took a step back and saw this was a big opportunity to make a huge difference for the community, today and in the future.”

Repairs to the steeple have just finished. The weather vane, which has sat atop the church since 1764, has been mended and put back in place.

Weather vane, dating from 1764, is back in place

A big part of the project is to open up the church gardens, which are overgrown and underused.

The large, bright interior of the building, a rare example of 1950s church architecture, is to be redecorated. The adjacent neighbourhood centre, which hosts 50 community groups a week, will be re-roofed.

There has been a church on the site since the 12th century. “This site is of huge importance in telling the story of Islington and where it began,” Mr Harvey said.

The church hosts the annual Soul in the City community festival.

Churchwarden Anthea Nicholson said: “We really need to address the problems that we have with the building.

“It’s a beautiful structure which has inspired people for generations and it’s been heartbreaking for us to find puddles of water when the rain gets in. We really need to restore Islington’s church for Islington’s people.”

Mr Harvey added: “St Mary’s has always made investments in community work. The Heart of Islington project will help us to improve our neighbourhood centre too.”

The total project cost is around £1.8 million, but the St Mary’s team is confident that the fundraising gap can be closed soon.

Mr Harvey said: “The way that local people have responded to the vision is tremendous. We’re getting donations from church members and Richard Cloudesley’s Charity and we’re hopeful for a substantial grant from businesses, residents and other partners in due course.”

Islington Council, which maintains the gardens, has used a substantial part of a Section 106 community benefit grant from the Islington Square development over the road to make improvements. Public consultation will begin in the coming months.

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