The New Building at St. Mary Magdalene’s

The vision for the St. Mary Magdalene’s Project could not be achieved through use of the church building alone. While there are small spaces for meetings, the Church is still used regularly for worship and it lacks modern facilities like running water and toilets. There is no disability access.

The new building is therefore essential for the activities planned and to ensure the Church becomes a rounded experience for all its visitors. The Heritage and Learning Centre will have a classroom, a display space, toilets and a café. The classroom has been designed so that it meets all Department for Education guidelines and can accommodate up to 30 pupils. This will encourage close links with local schools whose pupils can come in on a regular basis to do project work in subjects like history, citizenship and art. At other times the classroom will be used for lectures and courses and as a bookable space for community groups.

The café provides an important social space and also an interface between the outside canal-facing green areas and the inside of the new building and the church. The café will act as a relaxed interface between passers by and the new project and its walls will be used to display work by those who use the Centre. It has been designed to present an inviting front to those who may be curious about the scheme but unsure about stepping into an imposing church building. It will also provide an opportunity for a small business to set up in catering and train young people in hospitality.

The designers of the new extension have faced a number of challenges however. The site is small, constrained and an awkward shape whilst Street’s church building is architecturally forthright and cohesive. A link has to be made between the two. There are important issues too about protecting the way this Grade 1 listed building can be viewed from different angles. To help resolve these questions the views of the Victorian Society and Historic England have been sought.

However the Heritage and Learning Centre is about much more than basic facilities or fitting in with the past. It is about ambition and identity. It is about welcoming all members of society, not just members of the Church of England. The new extension has a vital job of work to transform the identity of the Church and to change perceptions and to make a clear statement of welcome to all who pass by.