ADVERSITY was turned to advantage at St Silas’s, Pentonville, in London. When heavy rain broke through the roof one Sunday, just as the congregation was receiving holy communion, water started running down the inside walls, “which was great, because it showed them what I’d been banging on about,” says the Revd Shaun Richards, who had been worried about the leaks in the roof for all nine years that he had been Vicar.
It was clear that the church needed a new roof, but it was already a climate-change-conscious church, led by its younger members. An energy audit was held, and they changed all their light bulbs; now they could make radical use of the roof to generate energy.
Unlike other churches where solar panels are hidden behind parapets or on other unseen parts of a roof, St Silas’s went for a unique solution — solar panels, similar in size and colour to the existing slates. It would be the first such roof in the diocese of London.
It turned out to be shockingly expensive — £270,000 — but they received large donations from Islington Council’s climate-change fund, and from the Low Carbon Buildings programme.
The church members still had “a huge amount to raise”, Fr Richards says, and they did it by parish fund-raising, together with a sponsorship scheme for the slate-sized panels at £5 a time.
All this took place in the poorer area of Islington, full of estates, many deprived, but “where the really poor can live next to the very rich”. Even so, it was a project that caught the imagination of the community, and Fr Richards says that, walking in the street or market, people would stop him to speak about it and press donations into his hand.
The money was raised within 13 months, “and we were so glad not to have a huge project hanging over us, because it can wear a parish out.” Earlier this month, the roof was finished, and the Vicar performed the topping-out ceremony, liberally splashing the roof with holy water.