The St John at Hackney Project

The vision for this project in heritage terms is: “To enable people to discover the many stories of St John at Hackney; stories linked to people from the past who created the Church we see today and those who continue to make it the vibrant and dynamic place it has become: a place of worship and a community hub serving the people of Hackney. We hope that engagement with our church, and our heritage, will encourage people to discover their own purpose and place within this community”

This is supported by the core heritage aims of the project, which are:

·       To ensure that our congregation, users, visitors, concert-goers and our diverse community understand and appreciate the significance of the asset and the role that St John at Hackney has played in the development of Hackney.

·       To raise the profile of St John at Hackney as one of the most important public buildings in Hackney and thereby attract and welcome new visitors to discover the heritage asset and the mission of the church through the stories and people, the artifacts and architecture of this special place.

·       To work with hard-to-reach and under-represented sections of the local community that are relevant to our work in Hackney and are currently excluded from engaging in heritage activities through lack of awareness, opportunity or resources.

In that context the overall aims of the project are to secure a viable, sustainable, functional asset that can:  

·       Serve the varied needs of a worshipping community;

·       Accommodate successful live music performances and other commercial events; and

·       Offer the local community space for activities that meet their needs.

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The focus of St John at Hackney church has been human flourishing in Hackney, and this has been the case since 1275, when we were first recorded. 

Today of course, we are proud of our diverse community, and our work within it: our health projects, our Children’s Theatre, our tackling poverty through the night shelter project, our music projects, our children and youth projects, our Citysafe project, making our streets safer for young people, the Hackney Foodbank, of which we are a distribution centre, our job brokering projects and the two schools that we help to run. Indeed, we could be so bold as to say that our church and churchyard are the historic centre of Hackney itself. Hackney’s former boundary being taken directly from this parish.

We could do a lot more but we are hindered by the inflexible nature of our building: its heating, its seating, its lighting, its poor state of decoration, its lack of toilets and its leaky roof. We are also hindered by the threatening nature of the churchyard, especially at night. 

The churchyard is a beautiful ancient walled garden, but despite the 2006 restoration project, and the recent removal of street drinkers, people don’t feel safe walking through, many of whom have small children.

We know that Hackney has its highs and lows. The churchyard can be beautiful but also sinister, and it needs protecting through vigilance. Over the last eight years here we have suffered a rape, several suicides, large numbers of cars being broken into, fly tipping and even the Hackney riot started in the churchyard. And these are the ones we know about.

In addition, as the churchyard is on the boundary of E5, E8 and E9, it is a contested space for young people who form part of the gang culture, and those who are threatened by it. As an example, knives are commonplace, indeed in our knife bin, which we put in place in 2011, has collected over 4,500 knives. This is the highest number in London.  

We have been shaping Hackney for almost 800 years and our project is in keeping with our desire to see Hackney flourish. It includes not only new housing, but also a refurbished grade 2* icon building, and a new community centre which will focus on the educational and relational needs of the young.

Hackney is one of the most growing and developing parts of London, yet it is also one of the most deprived. The Parish Church is one of the few places where a community can span such diversity, as this is one of the few places where people of mixed ages and mixed cultures come and meet regularly, building relationships and making the community stronger. In addition, many people use the building for all sorts of fabulous experiences, including our projects and concerts. We have welcomed Coldplay, Elbow, Emilie Sande, and a further 40,000 people per year into our hallowed building.