£1.8m Lottery win for historic meeting place

Grant refurbishes radicals’ ‘church’ in Newington Green where Mary Wollstonecraft spent time in the late 1700s

Friday, 7th September 2018 — By Helen Chapman

Andy Pakula

Rev Andy Pakula: ‘Focus on love and justice’

A MEETING house in Newington Green once attended by Mary Wollstonecraft has been given nearly £1.8million of Lottery Heritage grants to fund a refurbishment.

Now home to the New Unity congregation, New­­ington Green Meeting House will get disabled access, a new meeting area and extra toilets.

The Reverend Andy Pakula said: “We have been making do with one toilet for 300 years, so that is huge for us.”

The renovation of the 1708 building is only part of the plans, with some of the grant going towards a programme of community-focused events.

Mr Pakula, who identifies as an atheist, said: “We pride ourselves on being radically inclusive. We talk about human beings and what human beings need individually and communally.

“We focus mostly on love and justice. Justice is what love looks like in public. Like Martin Luther King said: ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’.”

The meeting house was once home to the Dissenters, who campaigned for religious freedom, the abolition of slavery and social reform. Richard Price was minister in the 1700s when it was visited by pioneers of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Ms Wollstone­craft, the feminist writer, spent time there in the late 1700s.

Mr Pakula added: “With training, networking and workshops, we want to enable people to make the change they want to see. Homelessness and racism are areas we would like to focus on.”

The vast majority of its members are not associated with traditional religion. Instead of religious texts, the meeting house hosts workshops and congregations with schools and community members.

The refurbishment, due to start in January next year, will take 12 months.

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