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‘A time of rebirth’ at planning row church

Priest aims to breathe new life into building at centre of demolition bid protests

03 March, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Rev Alexandra Lilley: ‘A joy to be back’

ST George and All Saints Church Tufnell Park has had a tough time of late, with neighbours split over its plans to knock down and redevelop the building and attendance figures falling.

But a bright young face hopes to change all that. Alexandra Lilley was licensed as priest-in-charge of the Crayford Road church on Saturday by the Bishop of Stepney.

Originally from Surrey, the 36-year-old is no stranger to Islington, having lived in Chapel Market and on the Bemerton estate. She has worked at All Saints, in Caledonian Road, and St Mary’s, in Upper Street. She replaces Melanie Toogood, who left the church last year after more than a decade.

“It’s a joy to be back in this brilliant borough,” said Ms Lilley, who served her curacy at a church in Shadwell, east London. “One of the best things about it is that there’s a vibrant community life in every pocket of Islington, and particularly Tufnell Park.”

She admits there have been some “sticky” issues in the community over the redevelopment and how well used the church is.

A planning application which would have seen the church and vicarage demolished to make way for a new community hall, church and seven-storey apartment block was rejected by the council in December.

Some residents voiced concern about the “unnecessary demolition”.

Ms Lilley hopes that, as a new face, she can begin again by listening to all sides of the argument.

“With those who object to the scheme, those who are part of the church and the neighbours who are in favour, ultimately we all want the same thing – for Tufnell Park to be a thriving neighbourhood where everyone, including the most marginalised, are brought in and human life flourishes,” she said.

The church is currently empty during the day for most of the week, something that “doesn’t feel right at all”, she said. She hopes to open its doors to more community groups and to do more work with young people as Islington Council’s young people’s budgets are cut.

“I feel like it’s a time of rebirth,” Ms Lilley said. “The church has been through a bit of a tough time.This is a chance to breathe new life into it.”

In her spare time, she loves to read, go to the theatre and gigs. Her husband, Michael, is a civil servant and a drummer in church bands.

Ms Lilley hopes it will also be a time for spiritual rebuilding at the church – a typical Sunday congregation numbers only around 25.

“It’s spring time, a time of hope and I feel really glad to be licensed at this time,” she said.

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