Trustees for Quakers in Britain have agreed to invest in an "inspiring refurbishment" of the large meeting space at Friends House in central London.
The space is traditionally used for Britain Yearly Meeting – Quakers’ annual decision-making forum. But it has also been the scene of many public meetings on peace, social justice and human rights over the years.
Friends House, which has a quiet courtyard at its heart, in the midst of a bustling city, is the headquarters of the British Quakers. A twentieth century listed building, it includes offices for Britain Yearly Meeting’s centrally employed staff, an historic library and the Quaker Centre with its bookshop, cafe and restaurant.
The building also operates as a successful conference and events centre, with rooms let to generate income for Quaker work.
Clerk to the Trustees Jonathan Fox said: “We want Friends House to exemplify our Quaker testimonies to simplicity, integrity, peace and equality, and to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability. Friends House is a key piece of our heritage, an asset through which our continuing witness in the world is realised. We have expressed our responsibility for its stewardship and our desire to enable the building to work for us in a manner appropriate to the 21st century.”
The architects, John McAslan + Partners, will work closely with local planning officials, especially in developing the skylight concept, in which Quaker artist James Turrell has expressed an interest.
The gradual refurbishment of Friends House is already underway. Green credentials of the new work will be maximised by adding solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, wall insulation, and heat-exchange systems. The improved layout will give people with disabilities the same opportunities as other visitors.
To fund the work Trustees have set aside £4.25m out of the £6.6 million raised by selling a long lease on Quaker-owned Courtauld House. Putting money into the building instead of the financial markets will reduce investment income.
However, Trustees say they are confident that existing reserves will ensure Quaker work will not be significantly affected, and that sustained bookings over the decades ahead will compensate for this in the long term.
The work will start in June 2013 after Yearly Meeting (that is the annual assembly with supreme decision-making authority for Quakers in Britain) and take one year to complete. The first Yearly Meeting in the refurbished space will be in 2015, with planning already under way for the 2014 event to be a residential meeting outside of London.