HLF Renovation Updates

Newington Green Unitarian Church, part of New Unity along with Unity Church Islington, has received initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the ‘NGUC 2020 Recovering the Dissenters’ Legacy at the Birthplace of Feminism’ project. The project aims to restore the church and integral Victorian Schoolhouse by 2020 and open them to all, and particularly schoolchildren, as a centre alive with exploration, celebrating the history and modern relevance of rational dissent and the foundations of feminism. Development funding of £123,200 has also been awarded to help New Unity progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date. Click here for more information.




Congregational Conversation: Meet the Architects & Have Your Say on New Unity’s Restoration Plans

6th August 2017 at Newington Green Unitarian church


(see the post below for a detailed report of the conversation)

Generally plans were very well received and gratitude expressed for the work and planning to date. We want to know your feedback and thoughts before September 3rd. Please click here to download the Suggestions Form, which should be emailed to unitychair@gmail.com.

Two main issues emerged:

1.  Accessibility:

  • Not just wheelchair access, but for other disabilities such as sight and hearing

  • Accessibility to all the space, including the gallery

  • Parking space for buggies and for mobility scooters

  • Space for a wheelchair user to sit in their chair in the congregation/audience

  • Review potential trip hazard into the pews from the sloping floor

  • A disability survey by a professional

2.  Useability: Many demands on the space in the lobby and the gallery:

  • A reception desk in the foyer instead of an office in the gallery?  More welcoming, and better place for a guardian to keep an eye on what’s happening.  

  • Build a desk that has lockable drawers and a cantilevered shelf for a computer

  • A box office for the venue

  • Parking space for buggies and mobility scooters

  • Visitor centre with display boards and space for our mini-museum

  • Crying room

  • Toilet (to avoid crossing the stage to reach the facilities at the back)

  • Office for the education officer

  • Workspace for the community archive and other digital activities

  • Lift to the gallery if feasible

There were also a number of other suggestions / observations:

  • A shower for performers

  • Additional storage requirements and/or possible use of the dead room

  • Outside signage, visible coming along the pavement

  • Some voices raised strongly for and against keeping the organ

  • Keep loos gender neutral

  • Insulation and secondary glazing

  • Acoustics harmed by the canopy of the proscenium arch

  • Reinstate the memorials on the righthand wall

  • Retain the peephole and the honesty window

  • Space for schoolchildren to hang their coats and eat their lunch

  • Please consult on plans for interior design (surfaces, colours, lighting)

  • Put plans in foyer and on web to create further opportunities for feedback

Notes by Wendy Sudbury, 7th August 2017



Congregational Conversation: Meet the Architects & Have Your Say on New Unity’s Restoration Plans

Newington Green Unitarian Church

The conversation was held after the service in Sunday 6th August, commencing at 12:30 pm and finishing at 14:30 pm.  It was attended by 35 people.  

For the architects, Richard Griffiths pointed out evidence for the history of the changes made to the building over time (e.g. roofline, pediment, railings, missing front pews).  He then described the current intentions towards the refurbishment, emphasising not just the intended uses for the spaces, but also the underlying imperatives: to make the building easy to find, welcoming to visitors, and accessible (both in terms of flow and suitable for people with disabilities).  The plans he presented and described are attached as pdf files.

He explained the key features of the proposed changes to the layout (in addition to the structural necessities to protect and repair the fabric of the building):

  • A ramp up to the front door

  • A glass front door onto the street and a glass panel screening the lobby from the nave

  • A small office on the western end of the gallery

  • Removing the pedals and keyboard from the behind the organ, leaving the rest of the gallery open with moveable chairs

  • Raising the floor in the two aisles between the box pews and the centre pews, with a very shallow gradient to account for the step up from the lobby level to the vestry level.  The two raised “walkways” to meet in the middle at the back of the stage.  

  • Turning the vestry into a more generous corridor with a ramp up to the level of the current kitchen

  • Installing an accessible toilet in the place of the current toilet, able to be reached from all spaces in the building

  • Digging out the basement to the full footprint of the school room and installing two toilet block (male and female) and creating an additional room (a “rumpus” space)

  • Including a tea point and sinks in each of the three spaces and storage spaces for the different regular users of the Mary Wollstonecraft room

  • A platform-lift travelling up through all three levels, from the basement to the Mary Wollstonecraft room

Many congregational members began their remarks with a general compliment on the planning intentions and gratitude for the work done to date.  

Other comments and questions from the congregation were as follows:

Lindsay River (also speaking on behalf of Naomi Jacobs, a wheelchair user):
The gallery office is not accessible, which debars not just disabled users but also volunteers and employees with a disability. Will we have a professional survey to look at all aspects of disability, including (e.g.) sight, hearing?  

Answer: an induction loop is already part of the audio specification, but a richer survey is certainly desirable.

Rose Heatley: is the organ going?  A: Professional advice is that the organ is of no historic interest and would need a huge amount of money to restore.  It’s possible the pipes could be retained, but the keyboard and pedals intrude so far into the gallery that it becomes too shallow to be useful for anything else.  Vicky Ryder added that the freed up space could be useful for a sound engineer.

Roberta Wedge: What about other more general storage (e.g. for Christmas decorations, and the compulsory safe for the Register).  

Answer: good point, to be followed up.  Perhaps the “dead room” behind the “coffin door” could be fitted out for storage. 

Where will the plant for heating (and maybe for cooling) go?  

Answer: a consultant will address all that; perhaps in the basement with access to air in the courtyard

Marta Pacina: where would wheelchair users sit in their wheelchairs in the church?  A: good point; more thought needed.  In the box pews?  Folded up?

Toby Morrison: Should we replace the stair to the gallery with a platform lift?  

Answer: renders the rest of the space too small to be used.

Roberta Wedge added that there would not be room for a wheelchair to get along the gallery.

Are we planning additional signage (e.g. tactile signage for blind and partially sighted people?  

Answer: no decisions have been made. We also need to think about external signage that stands at right-angles to the building, and is visible to people approaching from the side, not just face-on.

Marjorie Manley: will the door to the “dead room” remain?  

Answer: yes, but it may need to be raised up to accommodate the raised floor level.

Alice: is the office in the gallery to be a closed off space? How effective will that be as the location for a “guardian” during opening times? And how much natural light would such a closed off space have? But if the space is not closed off, how will we manage privacy? Or security of equipment, people and belongings?

Penny Walker, on behalf of Emily Palmer: the organ is important and she would not like to see it go.

Can we put the plans on the website and collect feedback from people unable to be present today.

Answer: good idea.

Emily Verlander: Knows that she is not the only person who feels we should keep the organ.

Answer: it’s really not practical for reasons already discussed.

Shaun Joynson: can the disabled loo also be a wet room that includes a shower for performers?  

Answer: an idea to investigate.

Andy Pakula: Can we have a “crying room”, perhaps in the gallery, where distressed people can sit quietly and privately, and noisy infants can be taken outside? Why not replace the current screen that separates the nave from the lobby with a glass screen with two doors opening in to the nave? Can we get an additional toilet in the lobby? It would allow more discretion, avoiding the need to walk up to the front and across the stage to reach the facilities?

Jennifer: will there be an additional consultation on the look and feel of the interior spaces, in terms of surfaces, colours, light fittings, clear glass in the windows etc.  

Answer: those decisions haven’t been made yet, but essentially there won’t be much change. [Stephanie heard him say that there will be a massive change].  Perhaps another presentation in (e.g.) September. 

Justine: Do we have to get it back to what it was?  

Answer: what period would one take? The decoration should serve the architecture.

Lawrie Ross: there will be a trip hazard from the uneven step from the raised walkways into the pews.  

Answer: there is already a step-up into the pews.  Lawrie: yes, but currently it is a level step and all the steps are the same; the graduated rise changes that.

Toby Morrison: if the gallery is a public space, isn’t there a legal obligation to provide a lift?  

Answer: In a listed building the benchmark is “reasonable”, i.e. reasonable to the man on the Clapham omnibus.  

Wendy Sudbury: the man on the Clapham omnibus probably wasn’t disabled.  I think we need to take these concerns more seriously.

Pirrita Suomela: wouldn’t it be simpler, safer, more welcoming and more secure to have a reception office on the ground floor in the lobby?

Solomon: we should display these drawings in the lobby and invite further comment.  

Answer: good idea.  

Marta Pacina: We are proposing many uses for the lobby and gallery. The basement loos should be gender-neutral

Katy Henke: A welcoming reception desk seems better than an office because it is more welcoming.  

Vicky Ryder: we also use it as a buggy park, and a display area for our mini-museum.  Consider the impact of heating a larger, more open space.  

Shaun Joynson: a venue will need a welcome desk as a box-office

Lindsay Rivers: what about parking for mobility scooters?

Andy Pakula: what plans for draft proofing and insulation?  

Answer: there can be a tension between building regulations and regulations affecting historic buildings. We can’t change the character of the building. So we can insulate the roof space, but wall insulation would not be practical. Secondary glazing to the windows may prove possible. But we have to keep within budget.

Roberta Wedge: Do we plan to reinstate the memorials that are currently stored in the “dead room”?  

Answer: yes.  

Vicky Ryder: do I understand that all the internal plaster has to be removed from the church walls?  

Answer: no, only the external render, although some of the internal plaster may prove to be flawed when we get into the works.

Lindsay Rivers: when the Navadina choir performs here we have to make sure we stand to the front of the stage because the panoply captures the sound if we stand to the back.  

Answer: we understand the acoustics here are perfect for small sounds, but we will investigate that.  

David Bidwell: will the peephole be retained?  And the honesty window in the wall?  

Answer: [unclear about the former]; yes for the latter.  

Wendy Sudbury adds: Do we intend to have underfloor heating? It ought to be possible to design a reception desk for the lobby with lockable drawers and a cantilevered worktable that can close off a computer quickly; it would be both practical and welcoming. The activity plan includes an on-line community archive to support the display of the historic documents, the oral history recordings, and the digital educational resources; if this is not to be dropped then a working space is needed for the person charged with managing this, along with the involved volunteers. The gallery space was also proposed as a visitor centre and exhibition space with story boards etc. If you are bringing school children on site you need somewhere to hang their coats, and for them to eat their lunch. The education officer needs a work-station and office facilities. It was agreed that two strands of further consultation will be set up. The drawings will be displayed in the church with a comments book, and also placed on the New Unity website inviting comments by email and telephone.