Since St Pauls re-opened in 2004, we have had the privilege of welcoming thousands of people into the building who have seen a photo of St Pauls on the Internet, heard it mentioned at a conference or been recommended to come and see us. All kinds of faith and community groups have come from as far afield as Berlin, Elsinore, New York and all parts of the UK. Each group has come from a unique context and no two projects will ever be the same. But these are some of the frequently asked questions:
1. How did you get started?
By the mid 1990’s, St Pauls had been closed and boarded up for several years, the church authorities were talking of demolition and there was no money in the Parochial Church Council (PCC) coffers.
For us, the starting points were:
- Prayer – ‘what is God’s vision for this place?’ Is it demolition and the sale of the site to developers? Or can we dare to believe that there can be new ‘resurrection’ life?
- Community ownership – is this ‘the Vicar’s madcap scheme’ or is it genuinely owned by the congregation and wider community? At St Pauls, the groundwork had been laid by some tenacious young Mums and pensioners who, since the closure of the building, had been running regular Jumble sales on tables outside the church.
- Part-time project worker – Melanie Hall (and later Nicholas Morgan) were able to bring their indomitable enthusiasm and skills to work alongside the Vicar, initially on a feasibility study, extensive research and networking and first drafts of the Business Plan.
- The vision emerged for St Pauls to be re-opened as a hub to re-energise community life in Old Ford – a house of prayer for all nations and a place of healthy, creative and life enhancing activities. The ‘St Pauls a New Heart for Bow’ project began to gain momentum.
2. How did you find your charity partners?
From the outset, working with partner charities was an integral part of the vision.
Partnership working brings:
- high quality activities delivered by organisations skilled in that particular field
- opportunities for people coming in to St Pauls for a particular activity to discover and try out another one!
- sharing of good practice, ideas and expertise
- sharing of costs
- their own management systems and administration
- Turning the vision into reality was not easy however. We talked with many potential charity partners during the development period and of the three charities with whom we drew up leases prior to re-opening, none of them remain at St Pauls today. However, the PCC were delighted to resource start-up funding for Ability Bow as they emerged as a brand new charity to run the Gym in 2006, and then in 2009 to welcome IntoUniversity as they sought to expand their existing work in west and south London into Tower Hamlets.
3. How did you choose your architect?
Several architects worked on the project, but it was Matthew Lloyd Architects who brought the project to fruition. Matthew Lloyd Architects is located on a site named ‘Perserverance Works’ and perserverance was undoubtedly needed as design work had to proceed in ‘fits and starts’ as funds slowly came into place.
Other qualities of Matthew Lloyd Architects included:
- A flair for design and specification of innovative and high quality building materials
- A flexibility to re-design and re-design again as aspects of the brief changed
- An ability to communicate with the PCC, congregation and wider community in making presentations and receiving feedback
- A willingness to engage with funders especially by speaking passionately about the project on funder visits.
- A genuine understanding of the huge financial pressure we were under (including the delays between the issue and payment of invoices due to the length of time it took for the funders to release the monies) and the need for best value reviews throughout the process.
- We remain indebted to Matthew Lloyd, Alex Sherratt and Anne Williams from Matthew Lloyd Architects, to Stewart Whittle, Jeremy Webb & Gavin Moore from Gardiner and Theobald, (quantity surveyors) Stephen Jolly and Lesley Gale from Arups, Harry Stocks from Price & Myers (structural engineers) and we remember with gratitude the life and work of Nick Hanika who tragically died before St Pauls was re-opened.
4. Where did the money come from and how did you get it?
We were awarded grants by the following bodies: the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Big Lottery, the Community Fund, the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, the Church Urban Fund, the European Union Interreg 3 Programme, Bridge House Estates Trust, Tudor Trust, Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust, Henry Smith Charity, Rank Foundation, Mercers Company, Haberdashers Company, Beatrice Laing Foundation, Historic Churches Preservation Trust.
Key elements were:
- skilled and committed project workers (Melanie, followed by Nicholas)
- articulating the vision, ‘ownership’ and benefits of the project
- a clear Business plan constantly updated and revised
- liaising closely with funders and building good relationship with officers
- giving evidence of partnership working
- tailoring each bid to the requirements of the particular funder
- being prepared to write and re-write funding bids and cheerfully supply all extra material that funders required. (All but one of our funding bids was turned down when first submitted.)
- Never believing that ‘no’ was the final word!
5. Where does the money come from to keep the building open, staffed and well maintained?
Our vision for the ground floor is to offer ‘hosted space’ for a wide range of groups to hire – community groups, the NHS, Conferences, the local authority, Mendhi parties – and to provide a quality of welcome and care which makes St Pauls distinctive. Our main income comes from these hires together with the rental income from leases.
- 2004 – 2009: the lease and hall hire income was supplemented by grants for staff salaries. A ‘service charge’ to the partner charities apportions utility costs based on actual usage.
- 2009 onwards: we currently generate all our income and ‘break- even’ (just!) with no external funding. This entails our Venue Manager being endlessly creative and flexible with attracting groups to hire the spaces and being rigorous in securing best value for maintenance work and service contracts.
6. Would you say that the work is now ‘done’?
No! There is always room for new ideas, room for improvement in how we do things and the challenges of what is happening in the wider society such as the current recession. With a heritage building there are always the challenges of ongoing upkeep and maintenance too. We also believe in a God who leads us on a journey and know that there are many new chapters still to unfold!
7. Am I in your parish?
Please see the shadowed area on the map below.