A “SECRET” Victorian chapel at Oxford House, a charitable arts centre in Bethnal Green, east London, could be restored and reopened to the public for the first time in 125 years — with a little help, and £25,000 cash, from the community.
Oxford House has launched a fund-raising campaign to carry out a “sensitive” restoration of its chapel, which was rediscovered last year after the roof collapsed. It is to be used for community events, activities, and weddings, on completion. The amount raised by the public is to be matched by Tower Hamlets Council.
The charity was founded in 1884 for students and graduates from Keble College, Oxford, who undertook a period of residential volunteering to learn about urban poverty. Oxford House was built in 1891 and 1892 by the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, who designed the Royal College of Music in London, and rebuilt the nave of Southwark Cathedral.
Today, the building houses a theatre, a modern dance studio, gallery space, and meeting rooms. It is also home to 30 charities, community groups, and businesses. Oxford House was Grade II listed in 2011, and listed on the Heritage at Risk Register by Historic England in 2015, after being damaged by rainwater. The chapel, on the third floor, had been blocked off for more than a century.
The chief executive of Oxford House, John Ryan, said: “After a period of rain damage, we have put in a temporary roof protecting the chapel from the elements. But we need to find a permanent solution.” This would involve repairing and conserving a carved memorial to associates of Oxford House killed in the First World War, and new lighting, audio-visual equipment, and power supply, he said.
The fund-raising campaign is being led by the actor Eddie Marsan, who praised the “central role” that the community centre has had for residents of east London, himself included. He said: “This campaign is a chance to take what could be a tragedy, and transform this stunning chapel into a new creative space for generations to come.”