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Bid to revamp secret Sunday School hall at Union Chapel

Fundraising campaign to repair building that could become a new public events space

30 May, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Frances Sterling, Union Chapel’s fund-raising and development manager, outside the Sunday School building

IT is a building which has seen many different lives: a school, a nursery, a music venue and a rehearsal space.

But the Sunday School, a hidden hall at the back of Union Chapel, is now in need of urgent repairs.

And fundraisers are hoping to bring it back into regular use as part of a 10-year revamp of the famous chapel in Upper Street and its connected buildings.

Union Chapel’s fund-raising and development manager, Frances Sterling, said a target of £1.6million could mark the rebirth of the Sunday School, with the aim of it becoming a 200-capacity space for community use and public events.

The Sunday School hall at Union Chapel as it looks today

Ms Sterling said: “We want to get people locally talking about it. We’ve got lots of boxes of old stuff that hasn’t been sifted through, and we want to make that part of an archive planning for some of the balcony and to preserve it better. We want to know, did you ever come here as children or in the 90s? We want to bring it back to life and help tell its story.”

The Sunday School, with an entrance on Compton Avenue, and the main chapel both opened in 1877 as the local congregation expanded.

Ms Sterling said: “The school was a big idea the non-conformists had. They were very early liberal thinkers. It was before state education so they wanted to set up education spaces. The Sunday School was for younger kids initially, for free provision of education for local kids in Islington.”

She added: “Since the Education Act came into effect, they still had a traditional Sunday School but used it also for fayres and tea parties.”

A photograph of the early days of the Sunday School building which opened in 1877

No money was pumped into repairing the building, however, and Ms Sterling said: “The fate of the Sunday School declined with the chapel as the congregation in the 1920s declined.”

More recently, about 20 years ago, the venue relaunched as a nursery and then hosted some early The Big Chill events.

It is currently hired for rehearsals of plays which, alongside other concerts and donations, helps fund the independent Union Chapel.

Emergency work was needed when the roof collapsed last year and now a full revamp has been proposed. Ms Sterling hopes funding, sourced from trusts, lottery cash or donations, will be completed by next summer so up to a first year of work can begin.

Another photograph of the Sunday School in its early days

Renovations on the main chapel are expected at a later stage.

“It’s quite a rewarding project,” she added.

“The Sunday School is a very big space and we can have a lot of community activities there straight away.”

A launch party for the fundraiser will be held in the school on Thursday, June 14. To book a space at the free event, visit https://www.unionchapel.org.uk/event/20180614-sunday-school-stories-launch-party/

To share your memories of the school, email frances@unionchapel.org.uk or post to Union Chapel Admin Office, 19b Compton Terrace, London, N1 2UN

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