The oldest building in Lewisham is the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Ladywell which was built in 1774 although there had been a church on that site for over 1000 years. I am very fortunate as mayor to be invited to visit many places of worship from time to time – some are ancient like St. Mary’s while others are much more recent and have involved the conversion of buildings originally built for other purposes like the Lewisham Islamic Centre just down the road. What many of them have in common is that they are much more than places of worship – they play a vital role in our borough in different ways and serve not only their own congregations but the wider community too.
I was at St Mary’s because they were celebrating the success of a fund raising campaign to enable them to repair the church roof. As is always the case with such appeals there are a mixture of individual donations and some larger ones from institutions. In this case the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has provided a significant grant and the Leathersellers’ Livery Company has also helped out. The HLF are supporting a number of projects in Lewisham which enable existing facilities to be restored or brought back into use, and at a time when public bodies are short of cash they play a vital role.
The Leathersellers’ Company is one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London dating back to 1444 but they have been active in Lewisham for many years and have strong local connections, not least through their work in supporting schools. The Leathersellers’ Federation which consists of the three Prendergast schools has its origins in the first girls’ secondary school built in 1890, on a site provided by the Leathersellers’ Company.
The banking crisis of 2008 led to a prolonged period of austerity in our country and since the vote to leave the EU in June this has been exacerbated by great uncertainties about the future for many individuals in our city, but also for the economic well being of the city as a whole. Those of us who are active in politics have also been involved in different ways in difficult issues for our own parties.
As I sat in St. Mary’s I was firstly grateful for the way our faith based groups of all kinds work together and with the wider community in these difficult times. But then knowing that men and women had visited that very site for hundreds of years in war and peace, good times and bad, reminded me that we must keep our current challenges in perspective. Our community is resilient and will come through those challenges just as generations before us did, and as future generations will too I am sure.