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Radical Newington Green church set for much-needed £1.7million makeover

PUBLISHED: 08:48 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:48 17 July 2018

Tour guide Rob Smith at some locations in Newington Green associated with Mary Wollstonecraft

Tour guide Rob Smith at some locations in Newington Green associated with Mary Wollstonecraft

Archant

A historic Newington Green building that has been home to radical thinking for more than 300 years will be given a vital £1.7million restoration.

An artist's impression of how the meeting hut could look. Picture: Richard Griffiths ArchitectsAn artist's impression of how the meeting hut could look. Picture: Richard Griffiths Architects

Built in 1708, the Newington Green Unitarian Church, also known as the Meeting House, was frequented by “the mother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft and Rev Richard Price, who was frequently visited by the Founding Fathers of the USA.

It also housed a group known as the Dissenters, who campaigned for religious freedom and the abolition of slavery. In 2008, it became Britain’s first religious establishment to refuse to take weddings until same-sex couples had equal marriage rights.

And on a less serious note, it held a memorial for Lou Reed after he died in 2013.

But the church, which was rebuilt in 1860, has started to crumble. The roof leaks, walls are damp and two years ago it was placed on Historic England’s “at risk” register.

Musicians performing during a public memorial service for Lou Reed at Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: PAMusicians performing during a public memorial service for Lou Reed at Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: PA

Now the Heritage Lottery Fund has stepped in to grant £1.73m for its much-needed makeover to take it off that list.

“We want to share this vital history with a wider audience: schoolchildren, local community groups and interested parties from further afield,” said John Bates, chair of the team that submitted the bid. “We’ll be adding a visitor centre, creating disabled access, and generally future-proofing the building.”

Today, the building is home to New Unity, a non-religious church that “believes in good”. It continues the Dissenters’ legacy by working towards caring community and social justice.

Rev Andy Pakula said: “We’ve always been a radically inclusive community, but thanks to the National Lottery, we can now take this to the next level.”

The news was also warmly received by the borough’s heritage group the Hackney Society. Chair Nick Perry said: “We’re excited to hear that Unitarian Chapel has secured HLF funding needed to take this iconic site off Historic England’s Heritage at risk register.

“This site is hugely significant; it is thought to be the oldest nonconformist place of worship in England in continuous use.

“Exactly a hundred years on from the granting of universal suffrage, it is appropriate the chapel frequented by Mary Wollstonecraft should be able to embark on a new chapter in its life with public access.”

The renovation will take place throughout 2019, with the reopening scheduled for January 2020.

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