Historic church soon to re-open its doors to community

ED MATTHEWS reports on the renovation works going on at one of South Croydon‘s landmark buildings

St Andrew’s, wedged between two of South Croydon’s busiest roads

A £830,000 renovation project is nearing completion at St Andrew’s in South Croydon, which will see the Victorian church transformed into a “worship space and community space under one roof”, according to David Matthews, the headmaster of St Andrew’s School, one of the partner organisations who will be involved in the church’s future.

Since Easter, weekly services have been conducted in the school hall in Warrington Road while the builders have been busy. The church is on schedule to re-open on its saint’s day, November 30.

St Andrew’s was the first church in Croydon to be entirely free of “pew rents”. It was built in 1857 to be used by the servants of those attending St John’s, the Parish Church – the Minster’s medieval tower used to be easily seen from St Andrew’s, until the flyover was built.

When it reopens, St Andrew’s will have a kitchen and lavatory for the first time in its history. The interior of the church has been re-modelled, with a glass partition added to divide the space between worship and community areas, making it available for use by weddings, meetings and conferences.

Wedged at the busy junction of Lower Coombe Street and Southbridge Road, the 150-year-old building has taken a bit of a battering from the rumbling, heavy traffic that runs within a few feet of its front door. The unique bell tower was condemned as a dangerous structure at the end of last year and had to be removed, despite having undergone an expensive restoration less than 20 years ago. Father Keith Sylvia, the parish priest, hopes to be able to replace the bell tower once the interior work is finished, and funds allow.

Photographed around 100 years ago, St Andrew’s with its bell tower intact

“The design was perfectly fine when the church looked out over meadows,” Fr Sylvia said, “but you can’t help thinking that the traffic has had some effect on the building.”

Since the 1970s, the church has benefited from at least £20,000 per year from the royalties of the works of local artist Cicely Mary Barker, the creator of the Flower Fairies. Barker was a parishoner of the church, and she bequeathed a portion of her royalties for the upkeep of St Andrew’s. Some of her works will remain on display within the church when it reopens.

The renovation works have been largely funded by the sale last year of the Church Hall just over the road. Until the building of the flyover, that had been the site of St Andrew’s School, which was originally founded more than a hundred years ago by the parish as the local “ragged school”, offering basic education to local children from families too poor to provide schooling.

The Church Hall has been bought by an Indian community group, which intends to repair it and use for fundraising and functions.

The renovation project has helped to re-forge those community links with the school,  part of a “new, outward-looking era for St Andrew’s”. Any profits from hiring out the church can be used for community development. For example, there will be the provision of activities for children outside of school hours as well as other resources for local families, and English language classes could be held within the church.

The church is now involved within a partnership comprising of St Andrew’s School, Howard Primary, Aerodrome Primary and Parish Church Juniors and Infants, which will all benefit from the new facilities.

The priest and the headmaster see the community development at St Andrew’s as being even more vital following August’s riots. “The stability of a community hub is not something to be underrated,” Matthews said. With the garden and grounds surrounding the church being cleaned up as well, creating a small haven amidst the bustling roads, the main message that St Andrew’s will convey is one of welcome.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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