Hackney Gazette July 2018.jpg

A historic Newington Green building that has been home to radical thinking for more than 300 years will be given a vital £1.7million restoration.

Built in 1708, the Newington Green Unitarian Church, also known as the Meeting House, was frequented by “the mother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft and Rev Richard Price, who was frequently visited by the Founding Fathers of the USA.

It also housed a group known as the Dissenters, who campaigned for religious freedom and the abolition of slavery. In 2008, it became Britain’s first religious establishment to refuse to take weddings until same-sex couples had equal marriage rights.

But the church, which was rebuilt in 1860, has started to crumble. The roof leaks, walls are damp and two years ago it was placed on Historic England’s “at risk” register. Now the Heritage Lottery Fund has stepped in to grant £1.73m for its much-needed makeover to take it off that list.

“We want to share this vital history with a wider audience: schoolchildren, local community groups and interested parties from further afield,” said John Bates, chair of the team that submitted the bid. “We’ll be adding a visitor centre, creating disabled access, and generally future-proofing the building.”

Today, the building is home to New Unity, a non-religious church that “believes in good”. It continues the Dissenters’ legacy by working towards caring community and social justice. Rev Andy Pakula said: “We’ve always been a radically inclusive community, but thanks to the National Lottery, we can now take this to the next level.”

The renovation will take place throughout 2019, with the reopening scheduled for January 2020.