Oxford House cleans up with £1.4m Lottery cash and more to restore its flooded chapel
- Credit: Mike Brooke
A former rector returned to the East End looking round a hidden chapel now restored that was almost wrecked by floodwaters whenever it poured down from the heavens.
Kevin Skully came back to Bethnal Green for the official reopening of Oxford House centre after its £3million restoration which included replacing the very leaky roof above the Victorian chapel tucked away on the third floor.
"It was common to hide chapels on the upper floors in Victorian times," he reflected.
"This was the quietest place as the ground floor was always noisy and busy."
The former Rector of St Mathew's parish at Bethnal Green, now warden of St Barnabas College in Surrey, looked round the unique oak-panelled chapel with St Mathews' current rector Erin Clark, with an accompaniment from 'cellist Zosia Jagodzimska brought in for the occasion.
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Among the VIPs at the reopening was MP Rushanara Ali, worried about lack of government help for such social movements.
She told the East London Advertiser: "The government is missing a trick by not supporting institutions like Oxford House.
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"These wonderful institutions have come from good will and philanthropy, but struggle without funding and having to rely on the Lottery."
A crowdfunding campaign was started in 2017 to renovate the whole centre, including saving the chapel.
John Ryan, Oxford House chief executive for the past 11 years, went cap-in-hand to Tower Hamlets Council, then to the National Lottery which coughed up £1.4m towards the restoration.
He told his VIP guests: "We had plastic buckets and sheeting covering the entire chapel before we got a temporary roof on. It was grim.
"You'd hear the rainwater making some kind of musical accompaniment, which was kind of depressing."
The ambitious makeover completed in just 12 months includes a new spiral staircase leading up to a roof terrace now open to the public for the first time.
"We used to have to get up there by ladder," John remarked. "Now we have a 360-degree panoramic view from Canary Wharf to the City."
Activities at the centre include arts, dance, toddlers groups, ballet and performing arts for children. It hosts a score of voluntary and social organisations.
Oxford House was opened by Anglicans from Oxford University in 1884 to bring students face-to-face with urban poverty. It soon outgrew its humble premises and the present purpose-built centre was opened by 1892.
Social issues were tackled such as bad sanitary, unemployment, homelessness and sickness.
It had a sick fund, poor man's lawyer, labour registry and a mutual loan society.
Its settlement ethos with its mission to minister to the poor continued right up to the Second World War.
Social barriers were changing in post-War Britain, however, and Oxford House soon became part of the community rather than a welfare mission.
But lack of funding led to many functions being abandoned by the 1960s, when the chapel on the third floor became virtually forgotten.
Now this latest Lottery cash has put Oxford House into a new golden era.