Mary Mags New Learning and Heritage Centre

Community Involvement at St Mary Magdalene’s Paddington, London

PDT, The Heritage Lottery Fund and other supporters of the St Mary Mags project are acutely aware that it will only work if members of the local community not just support it, but are actively engaged in shaping the Project now and in the future.

The views of local people have been sought in surveys, consultation meetings, open evenings at the church and at events and festivals. Importantly local residents have also been involved on a sustained basis as members of the Project’s various developmental bodies. They have met with the architects, studied the plans, looked at 3D models and made recommendations. There is particularly lively involvement on the body known as the Volunteer Design Group (VDG). This group is made up almost entirely of local residents who have given up their time to comment on the plans as they develop. They have shared their views not just with each other and the Project workers but with the Victorian Society and English Heritage. The group consists of local people from different age groups, faiths and backgrounds and the Project to date would be the poorer without their time and support. They have encouraged the designers to be bold in their vision, arguing for example, for design principles that make the new building stand out and act, as the original Church did when it was built, as a signal of confidence and faith in and for the community. They have also asked that the Project fund ways to have a higher local profile and have made suggestions about how to extend the involvement of local people. This led, for example, to a leaflet drop in nearby housing estates to invite residents to drop in and look round the Church and meet Project staff and Church volunteers.

A consultation day held in the Church was extremely well attended, again attracting a wide range of participants. Those who came were asked to help create the vision for the Project but also supplied detailed suggestions for the types of activities they would like to see emerge from it. There was strong support for training, volunteering opportunities, links with local schools, activities that would interest young people at risk of disengagement and for access for community groups to use the new spaces at no, or low, rental prices, since this is a challenge locally.

Their views fed into the Activity Plan for the project – a detailed document which sets targets for the number and type of activities that can happen in the first five years including schools’ use, evening concerts, lectures by experts and adult education classes in creative subjects as well as English Language. The authors of the Activity Plan carried out in-depth interviews with dozens of local organisations and interested individuals and these are written up in the document.

Other residents have taken up roles helping to raise funds for the matched funding the Project will need to find if it passes planning permission. Some have volunteered to encourage friends and family to comment on plans on the Council’s website.

A survey on the streets of Paddington brought in results that echoed the views emerging from other research. People asked pertinent questions about design and long-term sustainability and funding but in general there was a very high level support for the Project’s aims and the one outstanding theme was that it had the capacity to bring people together and this was seen as an immediate need in an area like Paddington with its very diverse communities.