News Release: Church labelled ‘Birthplace of Feminism’ saved thanks to National Lottery players

News Release:

Church labelled ‘Birthplace of Feminism’ saved thanks to National Lottery players

Newington Green Unitarian Church (NGUC), part of New Unity, in Hackney has received initial National Lottery support of £1.85million to uncover its fascinating history of radical social reform, where the feminist ideals of Mary Wollstonecraft were born.

Currently on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register, the National Lottery funded project will carry out essential conservation work to one of England’s oldest Unitarian churches and open the whole building up to the public. Development funding of £123,200 has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to help NGUC progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.

220 years after her death, the Grade II listed church seems to be the only building associated with Mary Wollstonecraft that still stands. Mary moved to Newington Green at the age of 25 and her time as a congregant was undoubtedly a formative period in the development of her ideas. She was heavily influenced by preacher Dr Richard Price, a friend to Benjamin Franklin and passionate supporter of American Revolution. In 1792, Wollstonecraft published ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’. One of the first women to publish her views on the topic, the text would go on to inspire generations of campaigners for women’s rights and earn Mary the title of the Western ‘mother of feminism’.

Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the four year ‘NGUC 2020 – Recovering the Dissenters’ Legacy’ project celebrates the church’s role in the history of rational dissent and feminism, and the relevance of these ideas today. The project will conserve and digitise the NGUC’s collections, making them publically accessible on a new website. An education programme will be run with local schools, alongside a public programme of talks, lectures and exhibitions, to place the site as a valuable educational and heritage asset for local, national and international visitors.

Rev Andy Pakula, Minister of New Unity, commented: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. This Church has given people a place for spiritual enquiry, rational debate, dissent, and activism as well as for public meetings and group activities for the past 300 years. It’s great to know that, thanks to National Lottery players, we are a step closer to making this important influence available for another century or more..”

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.  Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.


For further information, images and interviews, please contact:

Ama Josephine Budge - Communications -

Rev Andy Pakula – Minister, New Unity      07809144879

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CitizensUK demands tougher action on rogue landlords in Town Hall protest

News / 22 May, 2017

Campaigners want council to bring in licensing scheme in Hackney to help combat criminal behaviour

Hackney Citizen


House proud: students deliver petition to the Town Hall. Photograph: CitizensUK

Over fifty students urged the council to do more to tackle Hackney’s rogue landlords in a colourful demonstration outside the Town Hall last week.

The pupils from Cardinal Pole school and East London Advanced Technical Training (ELATT) are members of the local branch of CitizensUK, the largest civil society alliance in the country.

The delegation delivered a petition, signed by over 500 Hackney residents, calling for the council to introduce a licensing scheme for landlords in the borough.

Such a scheme would require landlords to apply for a licence for every property they manage. CitizensUK says it would give the council more powers to pinpoint and tackle unscrupulous conduct.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “There are lots of landlords who treat people around the borough poorly, such as not doing repairs and evicting people with no notice.

“Hackney has no landlord licensing scheme, and we want the council to introduce one so bad landlords cannot get away with it anymore.”

Newham Council, which launched a licensing system in 2013, told CitizensUK that the scheme has helped in finding and prosecuting criminal landlords.

Reverend Andy Pakula, minister of New Unity at Newington Green and a CitizensUK member, said: “Hackney Council should seriously consider equipping itself with additional powers to deal with those rogue landlords who make life so miserable for many people in the borough.

“The licence fees should cover the cost of inspection and enforcement. There should be no cost to taxpayers.”

A council spokesman confirmed it had received the petition and added that new proposals on renting will be published in the coming months.

Town Hall housing supremo Kim Wright said: “The council regularly investigates and prosecutes rogue landlords who do not meet the standards expected of them, as well as providing training to good landlords to help them provide a better service to their tenants.

“We are currently reviewing our enforcement approach to explore whether a discretionary landlord licensing scheme would help improve the conditions of privately rented housing in Hackney.

“Any private tenant who has a problem with the conditions of their home and feels their landlord isn’t taking action should contact us so we can offer advice, support, and – wherever necessary – action.”


Newington Green church slams ‘racist’ graffiti on Black Lives Matter banner

PUBLISHED: 14:00 12 May 2017 | UPDATED: 18:39 12 May 2017

James Morris

The Black Lives Matter banner was defaced outside Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: Andy Pakula

A radical church in Newington Green has denounced “racist” graffiti on its Black Lives Matter banner – after the offender crossed out “black” and replaced it with “all”.

Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: nicksarebi/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

The non-religious Newington Green Unitarian Church, known for preaching progressive politics since it was formed in 1708, today pinned a new banner at the front of the building after the previous one was defaced last week.

Black Lives Matter formed in the US in 2012, in response to African-American Trayvon Martin’s white killer George Zimmerman being acquitted for his shooting. The movement spread internationally as campaigners sought to highlight inequality.

The defaced Black Lives Matter banner was originally pinned up six months ago. And Rev Andy Pakula explained why the “All Lives Matter” graffiti was an “act of racism”.

“Core to New Unity’s ethos is the conviction that all lives do matter,” he said. “But our point, and the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, is that our society and systems do not act as though black lives matter as much as white lives.

“We show this banner in solidarity with this very necessary movement, and because the black lives in our congregation, our community and the wider world, need to be fought for.”

Rev Pakula pointed to New Unity’s stats that 38 per cent of young black men are unemployed in the UK, compared to 18pc of young white men, and that black people are four times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.

Rev Pakula added: “In this country, we are generally reluctant to talk about these issues, and that’s why the banner is on the front of our building. And if someone defaces it again, we will just put a new banner up.”

Newington Green Unitarian Church ‘at risk’ after 300 years of radical politics

PUBLISHED: 12:34 25 October 2016 | UPDATED: 12:34 25 October 2016

James Morris

Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: nicksarebi/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Newington Green Unitarian Church is in desperate need of repair. Nothing unusual there. What sets it apart, finds James Morris, are the 300 years of radical history witnessed by its crumbling walls.

Tour guide Rob Smith with a Mary Wollstonecraft mural at Newington Green Unitarian Church. Picture: Ken Mears

The Church is often accused of backward thinking. But you can’t level this at Newington Green Unitarian.

In keeping with Newington Green’s radical history, its unitarian church has been preaching progressive politics since it was built in 1708.

But on Friday, “Unity” was added to Historic England’s “at risk” register.

The church, which was rebuilt in 1860, is beginning to crumble. The roof is leaking and the structure is damp. Funding is needed.

Part of Historic England’s pitch was the church’s famous association with Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th century women’s rights activist. A banner across the church front proclaims itself the “birthplace of feminism”.

But its radical ties actually go back much further – to before it was even built.

Tour guide Rob Smith, of Clerkenwell and Islington Guiding Association, explains: “On the site of the church is where Charles Morton [a nonconformist minister] ran his academy in the late 1600s.

“At that time, there was a lot of suspicion of dissenters not part of the Church of England. They were prevented from taking roles in society, such as teaching at university.

“So Morton educated people himself. He taught more modern subjects, like science and politics. Importantly it was more accessible, because it was taught in English rather than Latin.

Newington Green Unitarian Church is so hip that it held a Lou Reed memorial after the musician's death in 2013. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

“His school was very popular, but he was harrassed by the authorities. He was raided, arrested and sent to the US. But he became a scientist at Harvard University, so you could say science at one of the world’s greatest univerities originates from Newington Green!”

In the late 19th century, Islington was stricken by proverty. It was Unity that led the fightback, Rob says. “One preacher, William Wooding, did a lot of community work from the church: things like Sunday outings for kids.

“It was to keep poor people from the clutches of drink, as alcoholism was a big problem in those days.

“Unity had a big role in tackling poverty. There was no welfare state at the time, and not much sympathy to the poor. So the church offered a little bit of hope.”

This continued in the aftermath of the Second World War. “Another Unity preacher, John Rhys Walker, was one of the first people in Islington to bring communities together after the war.

“He created joint Christian and Jewish groups, obviously important in the context of the time. People were coming to Islington from all over the world and he was trying to build bridges. That’s what the church is still about today.”

In 2008, it became Britain’s first religious establishment to refuse to take weddings until same-sex couples had equal marriage rights.

“We weren’t going to collude with unfair law,” Rev Andy Pakula says. “Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013. Our stance wasn’t earth shattering, but it made a few pebbles move. We showed religious people do care.”

Rev Pakula’s focus is now on preserving the church’s legacy: “There is inevitable deterioration and shoddy repair jobs over the years. What we are aiming at is grant funding to make our extraordinary heritage more accessible – things like better disabled access and toilet facilities, but also presenting our history in a more useful way.”