IN CONVERSATION 03 | ST. JOHN’S CHURCH

14.06.18

“A building on such a prominent site should be a source of inspiration and pride and effective high-level design can have all sorts of intangible benefits to the community and feel of the place.” – Rev David Britton

What is your definition of community?

I guess a basic definition of community is ‘a group of people who share something in common’. At St John’s I find myself relating to many ‘communities within a community’. For example, the obvious one is the geographical community which centers on the identification with the geographical area of Leytonstone.

In my role, I deal primarily with the church community. This community is made of people who have developed a connection with St John’s either through wanting to worship at their local church or they have been drawn to the church because of its worship style or a connection made in the past (e.g. got married here). The church community is less geographically defined and we have members who travel in from as far as Chingford. Also in Leytonstone, there are ‘communities within a community’. These are gathered around religion (e.g. Mosque) or other community organisations (e.g schools, British Legion, ex-serviceman’s, political party).

What do you believe your role to be within the community?

St John’s occupies a prominent place within the geographical community and therefore I find myself dealing with many communities within the community. I see my role as functioning in a number of ways.

Firstly it is to service and build up the church community and enable members of the church to grow in their faith and love of God and help the church to be a welcoming and inclusive place to all who wish to explore faith or seek help in time of need. 

Secondly, it is to use our resources as a church to bless the wider community. We can do this by opening our grounds and buildings to host community events (E.g. Festival opening fun day, Christmas lights switch on, hustings for elections, local markets and interest groups etc..). We can also do this by running community events that are not specifically ‘Christian’ but as Christians, we value them and think they are important. For example, hosting concerts and other arts and cultural events and running community cafes to combat loneliness.

I feel it’s important as vicar to play an impartial role in the community and therefore work with a whole variety of individuals and organisations and not take sides where there are factions or divisions. Where possible my role is to be a person of peace and bring people together. 

What kind of programming would you expect to take place in a community/ church centre?

The vision for the church/community centre is to be a hub for the community. I see this being fulfilled in a number of ways:

  1. Hosting community events through many of our partner organisations (e.g. Zumba, Pilates, Historical Society, Townswomen’s Guild, Repair Café, Stonesthrow Market). 
  1. Running a regular programme of community provision both church-run activities (e.g. our Parent/Toddler drop-in group, hosting a Homeless Night Shelter, ) and through partnerships (e.g. with the local Council, Charity organisations). 
  1. Being a resource and space for individuals within the community to use (e.g. one-off events such as parties, workshops, meetings etc.)
  1. Be a centre that is open during the week (e.g. running a café/drop-in/co-working space)
  1. Provide long-term rental for arts spaces/office

How important do you believe high-level design to be to community spaces, and how can we integrate this discussion into future schemes? 

High-level design is extremely important. The whole site of St John’s is very prominent within the community being located on the High Road. Leytonstone has a history of significant buildings that have come and gone (e.g. the Matalan Site). The general trend in the area has been for significant design to be replaced with functional design. 

A building on such a prominent site should be a source of inspiration and pride and effective high-level design can have all sorts of intangible benefits to the community and feel of the place. 

In addition, as well as aesthetic qualities, a design should incorporate a Christian ethic in its approach to problem-solving. For example, the new building should function as an example and trailblazer of good practice in terms of how design tackles the ecological challenges we face.  

How do you believe developers and designers can work with the community to ensure new schemes are most effective?

The most important community to engage with is the church: for it to work and be most effective for the future the church needs to be behind the project fully and not something that is seen as “the vicar’s project.”

Secondly, the wider community needs to be involved. Open communication is extremely important as in a small knit community rumors spread very easily. But more importantly buy in from stakeholders is vital and a thorough consultation process with the community should be undertaken – beginning with existing users.

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There is high importance when it comes to having a space that serves a purpose for its users in particular when creating a community space within an extremely diverse community.