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St John’s Church in Railway Street, Chatham gets £2.3m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund

A town centre church has been handed a £2.3 million lottery grant to help restore it as a thriving place of worship and community hub.,

St John’s Church in Chatham is one of 12 historic buildings in the UK to get a slice of the Heritage Fund’s £12.2 million handout.

St John's Church in Railway Street, Chatham scoops £2.3 million from Heritage Fund
St John's Church in Railway Street, Chatham scoops £2.3 million from Heritage Fund

The substantial Grade II listed landmark in Railway Street has already benefited from £1 million from the government-led Future High Street Fund.

It plays a key role in Medway Council’s multi-million scheme to revamp Chatham which includes a “new city square” and refurbishment of the area around the railway station to connect it to the heart of the town.

The lottery fund said the cash boost would help to bring the “at risk” heritage building back to life for future generations.

The council is working with the Diocese of Rochester to provide facilities for community use, in what is classed as a deprived area.

Proposals include a cafe, flexible meeting space for businesses, and workshop rooms for events and classes.

Matthew Girt, diocesan secretary for the Diocese of Rochester, of which St John’s Chatham is a part. said: “St John’s is very much at the heart of our wider plan and vision for growth and outreach across the diocese..

“This funding announced today is great news for St John’s, for Chatham, and the whole diocesan family. Huge congratulations to the church leadership team and all the diocesan support colleagues who have worked so hard to make this bid a success.”

St John's Church is between the railway station and the High Street
St John's Church is between the railway station and the High Street

In the meantime, worshippers continue to use their temporary home at Emmaus Christian Centre in Clover Street, Chatham.

St John’s was built in 1821 and then known as St John the Divine Church. It closed in the 1990s and only reopened for religious services in April 2021 – marking 200 years since its original creation.

The Italianate-style structure was designed by architect Robert Smirke but is now in poor condition and recently received a grant for emergency roof repairs.

It’s what is known as a Waterloo Church, built with money set aside by the government of 1818 “in thanksgiving to God for victory at the Battle of Waterloo”.

The brief at the time was to seat as many people as possible at the least cost, so at present there is still seating for 1,500 people, at an initial build cost of £37,000 – the equivalent of around £4 million today.

After closing in 1997, with the support of organisations and individuals it reopened in 2021 with the addition of a disabled access and kitchenette funded by a charity.

The council has gone out to tender for a contractor to carry out the restoration project and the diocese has undertaken a procurement exercise.

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