Beyoncé's set designer is working on a church project funded by a new build next door

IN terms of glamour, few churches can compete. St John at Hackney in north-east London is a celebrity magnet, having hosted concerts by Coldplay, Florence + The Machine, Robbie Williams, Emeli Sandé and Ed Sheeran.

Now you can add the biggest name in pop — this 18th century church now has a connection with Beyoncé. St John is undergoing a major renovation and Es Devlin, who has designed stage sets for Beyoncé, Kanye West, Adele, U2 and Stormzy, has been commissioned alongside architects Thomas Ford & Partners to carry out the work. The Church of England building — which dates back to the 1790s — is a cherished landmark in Hackney and is run very much as a community-focused hub. As a result, it is bucking the national trend for declining congregation sizes.

The refurbishment is aimed at bolstering its appeal. There will be essential repairs to the building. A permanent stage for concerts is being built, as are facilities such as toilets, so that more community events can take place.

All of this is being paid for through the sale of land adjacent to the church, which is being developed into 58 dwellings — 47 flats for private sale, three apartments for church key workers and eight affordable flats, in a project called Hackney Gardens.

The homes are being built by Thornsett, a developer formed in 1989, with origins in the construction industry but which has since become a specialist in partnering projects.

It undertook its first project of this nature with St Bart’s Hospital in the early 2000s with a development of 184 flats, 24,000sq ft of retail and a 27,000sq ft cancer and cardiac research centre, which was handed back to St Bart’s. Since then, Thornsett have undertaken many more partnering projects with charities, youth clubs, livery companies and free schools and denominations within the Christian church — the Church of England, United Reformed Church, Baptist and others.

The flats at St John are being built on 1.23 acres of land where a rectory, nursery and a Scout hut previously stood. These have been demolished but a new Scout hut is being built.

Thornsett began the negotiation process in 2010, submitting plans to Hackney Council two years later. This is a prime heritage site. The church is Grade II-listed and the remains of the original church, St Augustine’s Tower, is Grade I-listed. Securing planning was a delicate process before permission was granted in 2015. At this stage, Thornsett was just a consultant in the project and the development went out to competitive tender before Thornsett won the contract a year later. Work began in 2017 and is set to be complete in May 2019. The sales launch for the apartments was on September 29. One-bedroom flats start at £575,000, two beds at £795,000 and three beds at £850,000. The most expensive unit is a spectacular triple-aspect four-bedroom penthouse at £1,500,000.

Future living: How the apartments will look

Due to the sensitive nature of the location, being surrounded by so many of Hackney’s key listed heritage assets, it was important that only the highest quality materials be used. There is also a major landscaping project going on. As well as all the mature trees surrounding the site, Thornsett has retained 18 trees and two groups in the grounds. It will also be planting an additional 14 trees, 1,576 ornamental plants and 1,005 plants for hedgerows. The church’s outside space provides a much-loved throughfare for Hackney residents, offering a short cut from Hackney Central Overground to Clapton Square. This will be enhanced by the landscaped space around the flats, which will open to the public in daytime but locked at night.

Source: BEYONCE new

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