Quakers in Britain have secured planning permission for a major refurbishment of Friends House, their London headquarters, well-known as a venue for historic peace rallies and for hosting significant visitors like Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama.
The London Borough of Camden gave the green light to the project on Thursday 19 July. Work will begin mid 2013 and be completed in 2014.
Rowena Loverance, co-clerk of the Project Board said: “We are delighted that London Borough of Camden has recognised our innovative plans to make Friends House a more versatile and sustainable building, with a newly-configured Large Meeting House at its core. A haven in the busy city, but expressive of radical ideas, we hope it will proclaim Quaker values into the twenty-first century and help Quakers reach out to the wider community in London and beyond.”
The project will transform the front entrance opposite Euston Station and the central internal space, the Large Meeting House. However, it will retain the traditional simple Quaker character in the plain wooden panelling and original windows, as well as the classically-inspired façade of the twentieth century listed building, designed by Quaker architect Hubert Lidbetter.
Camden architects, John McAslan and Partners have developed a design that is simple yet inspiring.
The scheme will transform the Large Meeting House into a more inclusive space for meeting and worship, flooded with natural light from a large fixed glass roof light: light is very significant for Quakers in the expression of their faith. Quakers also value inclusivity and the new flat floor will ensure the hall will be more easily accessible for all. The galleries will go, replaced by flexible tiered seating, but a new lift will improve access to the upper tiers.
The refurbishment is the latest phase of work to make Friends House more sustainable. Already solar panels have been added, along with energy-efficient lighting, wall insulation and heat-exchange systems.
Friends House in central London is traditionally used for Britain Yearly Meeting – Quakers’ annual decision-making forum. It includes offices for Britain Yearly Meeting’s centrally employed staff, restaurant, an historic library and the Quaker Centre with its worship space, bookshop and much-used café. The building also operates as a successful conference and events centre, with rooms let to generate income for Quaker work.
To fund the work, Trustees have set aside £4.25m out of the £6.6m raised by selling a long lease on nearby Quaker-owned Courtauld House. Trustees had earlier decided not to go ahead with an additional project to include artwork by renowned Quaker artist, James Turrell, which would have cost an additional £1.4million.