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Archbishop of Canterbury rededicates St John’s, Waterloo, after £5.5m transformation

07 October 2022

Dirk Lindner

The new partition between the west door and the main body of the church

The new partition between the west door and the main body of the church

THE colonnaded façade of St John’s, Waterloo, in south London, is difficult to miss. Now, thanks to a £5.5-million renewal, the congregation hope that the interior space will also attract attention and draw a wide range of people into the church.

On Sunday, at a service of rededication attended by about 250 people the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that “Without a holy people, a church is just a building.”

Dirk Lindner“The Forum”, part of the renovated crypt

In a statement, Archbishop Welby also said: “St John’s is a place where relationships are being rebuilt and community strengthened.”

The Vicar of St John’s, Canon Giles Goddard, praised the “generous, inclusive congregation”, who had contributed more than £1 million to the project. “It was their desire for a church that played a full role in its community that kept us going and brought us to this day,” he said.

The initial scope of the works, which attracted funding from the London Borough of Lambeth and the Mayor of London, had been more ambitious, but was scaled down by cost considerations as well as objections from the Twentieth Century Society.

The changes maintain most of the features of the rebuilding by Thomas Ford after bomb damage during the Second World War, when it became the Festival of Britain church. The original architect was Francis Bedford in the 1820s, who used the Greek Revival style that was later used for the British Museum.

Eric Parry Architects, which previously completed the restoration and reordering of St Martin-in-the-Field’s, has masterminded the project in Waterloo.

A new feature is the addition of monumental screens to either side of the sanctuary, which has been refloored and refurnished. Each screen is a tower of white and coloured tablets. The colours used in the screen relate to those of the newly restored altarpiece mural by Hans Feibusch, a German Jewish artist who escaped the Nazis (Features, 10 February 2017).

In a statement, Mr Parry said that the project “demonstrates the role architecture has to play in creating uses and functions that support the role of the church in the community, provide additional income, and secure the long-term future of historic buildings”.

On a tour of the church on Monday, Mr Parry explained how flexibility for multiple uses, as well as environmental concerns, were central to the vision for St John’s.

Solar panels and heat-recovery systems had been installed, together with highly efficient new boilers, with the necessary infrastructure to upgrade them to heat-pumps when they become more feasible, and affordable, for the space.

Dirk LindnerSt John’s, Waterloo, in its newly restored state

Renovations to the crypt had created a series of rooms for community and corporate functions. Canon Goddard has plenty of ideas, suggesting that one of the vaulted subterranean passages could host fashion shows as well as exhibitions and receptions.

But the idea is that corporate functions make up only one third of all bookings, and help to pay for arts and community initiatives. So, although it may host high fashion, the crypt is also set up to accommodate the homeless.

On Monday, as the church prepares to reopen its doors to the public, Canon Goddard expressed excitement about the reaction of members of the community who had already seen the new works. “You see the wheels beginning to turn as to how the space can be used,” he said.

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