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Interview with BBC Radio 4 on Redevelopment of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church

The Archbishop in interview with John Wilson

Friday 14th March 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke to BBC Radio 4 about his reflections on visiting the £36 million redevelopment of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

As part of a visit to view the £36 million redevelopment of St Martin in the Fields ahead of its official re-opening ceremonies the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, spoke to Radio 4 on the personal significance of the project. In an interview with John Wilson for the Radio 4 arts and culture programme Front Row the Archbishop reflected on the creation of a sequence of beautiful, practical and inspirational new spaces by Eric Parry Architects to serve the community, visitors and those in need and witnessed the unveiling of a specially commissioned stained glass window by the Turner Prize nominated artist Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne. 

This edition of BBC Radio 4's Front Row  was broadcast on Wednesday 19th March 2008.

Read a transcript of the interview below, or click download on the right to listen [1Mb]

Interview for Front Row, BBC Radio 4

John Wilson: We heard earlier about the range of people that you're likely to meet here at St Martin in the Fields; there were homeless people, people sheltering inside earlier, there were American tourists wandering through and here in the entrance hall the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. This place is very special isn't it, both spiritually and socially...?

Archbishop of Canterbury: Very special. I think it was one of the places that really made a difference to the whole way in which way people thought about the Church of England in the 20th century. They saw the work that was done here in Dick Sheppard's day for the homeless and the needy and of course the whole involvement of the Church in Broadcasting has a terrific history here.

JW: And what a makeover though! £36 million spent.

ABC: It's amazing to see the results and coming in this afternoon I felt it is a bigger place than ever and it feels spacious, it feels light and of course you see all the connections between the worship space and the spaces that are around for other purposes.

(Noise of police sirens outside)

JW: As you can hear we are right in the centre of the city. This is really a meeting place isn't it? A place where people pass through but people have a great loyalty here as well.

ABC: It's a meeting place. It's a real public space. It belongs to everybody and I think that is one of the messages this makeover gives out.

JW: And you talk about the perception of size there, that's partly because it is brighter, it is lighter in there and in thanks part to that new window that we're looking up at there. An amazing source of light but a piece of modern art as well?

ABC: A piece of really effective modern art. I think it conveys a real sense of flow. You've got the cross pattern, the inviting central (not quite a circle?) ellipse in the middle and the subtle patterning all around which makes you see the whole thing rather like a cross reflected in water and somehow that's a very peaceful and yet very challenging symbol all at once.

JW: So you welcome that window? You're very pleased with it?

ABC: I'm delighted to see it. Yes, I think it is a triumph.

JW: Dr Williams, thank you very much.

Additionally, Dr Williams met Radio 4's Sally Flatman to the discuss the wider role that the redevelopment of St Martin in the Fields will contribute to both the local and international community as well as its mission in the 21st century. The transcript of their conversation follows:

Archbishop of Canterbury: Any Church is a building that doesn't just belong to the people who happen to go there regularly. It's a space where you can take the things that don't go anywhere else and where people who don't feel at home anywhere else ought to be able to feel at home. Now part of the legacy of St Martin's over many, many years has been that it is that kind of place, that kind of space for people, right in the middle of London here's somewhere that doesn't just belong to the group who use it most regularly or the group who use it most religiously, it belongs to anyone who wants to come in and who wants to find a home here and I think all this new development is just intensifying that tremendous legacy of being a place which belongs to everybody.

Sally Flatman: And its future; having seen your reaction to the spaces – having seen them today.

Archbishop of Canterbury: When people come into the Church they'll see a wonderfully restored, a wonderfully renewed and refreshed building and I'm sure they'll see worship there that really will speak of something different and bigger; but they will also see a Church building, a religious space, set in the middle of a whole cluster of services given to the community. A whole cluster of different concerns that will be there for the most needy in our society so the connection is made and people talk about connections a lot here, and I think if you see how the whole of this new complex hangs together, how its not just a set of rooms bolted onto each other bit it is conceived, imagined as a whole, that in itself says something about what this Church is about.

Sally Flatman: Do you think that it has set St Martin's up for the work that it does for the 21st century? It's often been talked of that we had burial vaults that were unfit and condemned in the previous century... (but we're used by the living right up to the 21st century).

Archbishop of Canterbury: What are people going to need in the 21st century? They are simply going to need a sense of anchorage and a sense of place, they are going to need a sense of affirmation and worth and they are going to need a set of buildings that will give them the message that they're worth it, they're worth taking trouble over. Now that, from what I see here, that is one of the biggest and most important messages that is being given to this next generation. Its not as it were anything will do for people in need. The best will do for them and that's what I see here.

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