Local collaboration transforms church to Grand Junction community hub

Words:
Eleanor Young

Record letters of support and community buy-in transported St Mary Paddington church from the Heritage at Risk Register to thriving community hub

By the once-barricaded north door, St Mary Paddington now has a welcoming café, one of the front entrances  for the scheme.
By the once-barricaded north door, St Mary Paddington now has a welcoming café, one of the front entrances for the scheme.

A warm café onto the canal, kids’ activity upstairs behind the glint of faience, a majestic nave set out for events. This is Grand Junction, St Mary Paddington, full of life even on a grey weekday thanks to the work of Paddington Development Trust and Dow Jones Architects. 

Once the tallest building round here, St Mary was a mission church originally squeezed between tight terraces alongside the Grand Union Canal. Now, just a few hundred yards from the Westway flyover, it is one of the few historic remnants among the sixties tower blocks of London’s Warwick Estate. Here 40% of children live in poverty, despite the gleaming offices being built nearby. Grenfell Tower is not far away.

The church wasn’t well used. The north door was blocked up and Father Henry ­Everett inherited around 20 parishioners when he took over a decade ago. He and Paddington Development Trust, which was already running community activities nearby, saw its ­potential. ‘The estate lacked anything remotely uplifting to be proud of,’ says ­Father Henry. This 1869 grade 1 listed church, designed by GE Street, was important in defining the ambition for quality architecture – and for unlocking sources of funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund in particular. 

Architect Biba Dow of Dow Jones describes the project as a staircase and lifts, but it is much more than that. A new building offers spaces for community use and opens up access to the reconditioned church for more. It slots into a few metres (2.5m at the narrowest) between the west face of the church and its neighbouring school, rising to three storeys and down to the level of the newly ­restored crypt. Café, loos, community and education rooms – all with level access – work for the church too (not to forget the secret door in from the school). Outside light changes the nuances of the new structure’s faience every time you look at it, and with its projecting top windows and signage it acts like the welcoming beacon both client and practice desired. 

MacEwen judges were particularly impressed with the way the project works with the listed church and the role local residents played in getting a strong solution. Last year’s Mac­Ewen Award winner, Dan Kerr of Mawson Kerr Architects, said: ‘It had the greatest numbers of letters of support at planning received by Westminster and had been on the Heritage at Risk Register. It seems a sign that the community is listened to and valued.’ Judge Hana Loftus added: ‘Next to a grade I church it would have been an uphill struggle.’ A dedicated group of residents was closely involved over the four years from pre-planning to detailed design. Biba Dow is clear that the firm’s voice helped to ensure the value of a strong modern design was appreciated through the planning process.

  • By the once-barricaded north door, St Mary Paddington now has a welcoming café, one of the front entrances  for the scheme.
    By the once-barricaded north door, St Mary Paddington now has a welcoming café, one of the front entrances for the scheme.
  • The nave of the grade 1 listed church has had its ceiling cleaned and restored.
    The nave of the grade 1 listed church has had its ceiling cleaned and restored.
  • Section through extension
    Section through extension
  • Inside the education room in Dow Jones’ extension to the church.
    Inside the education room in Dow Jones’ extension to the church.
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Local involvement has built a sense of ownership, community and goodwill around the project. Two interns and two apprentices were recruited and regular volunteering sessions saw 40 people scraping the brick pigment on the Victorian concrete and digging out the soil of the casual drainage channels in the crypt before sifting it for archaeological finds. This volunteering required some organising by the architect as well as two extra site huts, including a ladies’ loo. 

A heritage group of residents worked with the team to depict the area’s history in tiles that punctuate the walls of the concrete stairwell on the new building. Local people came in for scaffold tours and could join workshops with artist Linda Florence to design tiles that were used to enliven toilet cubicles. These and ceramic signage by David Sudlow and Simon Leach mark this building out as special. 

This project has drawn a community together in turning a heritage white elephant into a valuable asset, recovering its original purpose as mission church, although with a wider remit. Run for six days a week by the Paddington Development Trust (reverting to Father Henry on Sundays) it is used for yoga, youth work, drama, Black History Month events, films, boxing and screen printing, and is able to draw events that bring in ­revenue, like the launch of Music Declares Emergency. ‘It lifts the feel of the neighbourhood,’ concludes Paddington Development Trust’s Toby Gale. 


IN NUMBERS

£3.5m total contract cost
£2,191/m2 Cost of new building
3114m2 GIFA  (new building)


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Credits

Architect Dow Jones Architects
Client Paddington Development Trust and the Vicar and Parochial Church Council of St Mary Magdalene, Paddington
Structural engineer Momentum
MEP engineer Max Fordham
Quantity surveyor William G Dick
Approved building inspector Assent
Interpretation Simon Leach and David Sudlow
Artist Linda Florence
Access consultant  Access = Design
Catering consultant Lynda Brewer
Main contractor Lengard

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