Last month, £56 million was given to arts and heritage organisations to support their endowment funds in the first round of of the Catalyst: endowments programme. Reverend Sam Wells of St Martin-in-the-Fields explains why the church’s grant is so important to its future.
St Martin’s was first mentioned in the historical records in 1222. It was then literally ‘in the fields’ – a small church for the monks of Westminster Abbey. Few of those monks could have imagined the vast, cosmopolitan city that was to grow up around it. Rebuilt twice since that time, St Martin’s now stands at the heart of London and holds the story of this momentous change in its buildings, memorials and memory.
St Martin’s is many things to many people. Occupying the north east corner of Trafalgar Square, St Martin’s is the most visited parish church in England. For many visitors this may be their one encounter with the historic parish churches around which England has built its common life for centuries. Here, we strive to make England’s Anglican traditions open and accessible to all.
Alongside worship, St Martin’s is also well known for its music, for its architecture, and for championing social change. Many visitors recognise its form, as architect James Gibbs and his students spread his innovative blend of classical and Georgian elements across the English-speaking world. Its café and concerts are popular with Londoners and visitors alike. Through its support for the Connection at St Martin’s and the Vicar’s Relief Fund, it works to improve the lives of homeless and vulnerable people across the UK. For others, the church offers a moment of inspiration and respite from the hustle of the city outside.
None of this would be possible without St Martin’s buildings; and they have not always been in the fine state they are today. In the 1980s the church’s finances were perilous: they were only rescued once the decision was made to start an enterprise. The business has proved itself a blessing many times, yet is subject to the same commercial pressure as any other in difficult economic times.
As the twentieth century came to a close, it became clear the buildings were no longer fit for purpose, and the ambitious £36 million Renewal Project was launched. Part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Renewal left St Martin’s with vibrant and modern spaces that have sustained a new period of ambition and imagination.
This is why the Heritage Lottery Fund / DCMS Catalyst: endowment grant is so important to St Martin’s. While its business covers some of the costs, it is still dependent upon charitable donations to maintain the site in its current splendour. By establishing an endowment, St Martin’s seeks to ensure it will never fall into such precarious times again, and guarantee that its plans for the future are ones not only of hope but of expectation.
St Martin’s is grateful and proud to have its significance to the nation’s heritage and culture recognised by the DCMS with this grant. It is no small challenge to raise the millions required to establish a substantial endowment, but it is a challenge St Martin’s is eager to take up.
Last week, the Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) explained how their Catalyst: endowment grant from Arts Council England will be used to help young dancers. Read by the blog by BRB Chief Executive Christopher Barron.
Photo by Joshua Albers on Flickr. Some rights reserved.