Letting the light in and keeping the rain out
Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017
St Laurence's church in Catford, an iconic 1960s building in south London, has recently completed a major project to repair the church’s spectacular windows and fix the leaking roof.
With the help of a £10,000 National Churches Trust Repair Grant in December 2016, and funding including the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, the Alan Evans Memorial Trust, and Viridor Credits, St Laurence’s has ensured the survival of the building for another 50 years. Without the work, they would have had to contemplate removing the windows entirely.
“A glorious sense of light-filled space”
Built in 1968, St Laurence’s is a remarkable octagonal church with a pentagonal lady chapel. Under a domed roof with a central oculus, the eye is immediately drawn to the seven twelve-metre spans of vibrant dalles de verre glazing – mosaic-like coloured glass.
Each span is made up of eleven different windows, where jewel-like pieces of coloured glass are supported by delicate concrete mullions. They create a glorious sense of light-filled space, reverent and intimate, that even on dull days lifts the spirits of the congregation and visitors.
Beneath the dome, comfortable green leatherette pews surround the sanctuary. Representative of the best of 1960s religious architecture, the church is a combination of immanent and transcendent, individual and collective.
Protecting the windows
For the last fifteen years, the concrete mullions which divide and support the windows have been deteriorating, meaning water has been leaking into the church. There was even a risk that pieces of glass could fall onto the congregation.
Owing to the unique nature of the church, advice was taken from an international concrete specialist who agreed that the only way to protect the windows was to install glazing panels on the outside of the building. This prevents leaks and further deterioration. With the eventual agreement of the Twentieth Century Society, the panels are now in place, and the windows are protected from the elements for at least another 50 years.
The congregation no longer have to bring out buckets to catch the drips on rainy days, or risk being soaked themselves if the wind changes direction! The pews and floor beneath the leaking windows also no longer need protection.
Central to Catford
As well as religious services, the church hosts many activities including school services, concerts, rehearsals, film screenings and public meetings. The building is open dawn to dusk in the week. The adjacent community centre is also a thriving hub, welcoming all ages from a Toddlers Group to a Turkish Elders lunch club.
The fundraising process and building project helped to draw the attention of local people to the architectural gem in their area. School children learnt about conservation issues, and visitor numbers have increased. In total, St Laurence's welcomes 20,000 visits each year.
With the church warm and dry, and the magnificent windows secured, St Laurence's can continue its vital work at the heart of the community in Catford.
Find out how you can visit on the church's website.
Rev Canon Charles Pickstone, Vicar of St Laurence, said:
“Physically, the grant enabled us to complete a necessary scheme to ensure the survival of the building for another 50 years. Psychologically, it was the last piece of the fundraising jigsaw falling into place.”
“The fundraising team were pretty exhausted after a major three year campaign for this and other essential work to the building, and receiving news of a major National Churches Trust grant was not only hugely encouraging but also a cause of much rejoicing as the campaign had now been brought to a successful conclusion.”
Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said:
“The National Churches Trust is proud to be have been able to help the iconic church of St Laurence Catford.”
“Helping churches stay open for worship and able to welcome more local people and visitors to a range of activities and events is at the heart of our work. We’d love to support even more churches, so if you’d like to help us with our work supporting the UK’s church buildings, why not become a Friend of the National Churches Trust today – full details at www.nationalchurchestrust.org/friends."