History of St Catherine’s Church & the Telegraph Hill Centre

When the Telegraph Hill Centre was built in1972, the Revd Allan Auckland wrote the following:

Front entranceThe Vision behind this Centre and church is that you will find some material comforts here and much greater things as well: that through friendship you will experience increasingly the things that give to life its joy and purpose: such things as love and trust and hope.

Offer yourself in friendship to others you meet here, of whatever age, or race or background, and you will help us all to make this real.

Revd Allan Auckland

Vicar at St Catherine's

The Telegraph Hill Centre was built in 1972, the result of an exercise in co-operation between the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL), St Catherine’s Church (PCC) and a newly created body, the Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Council (THNC).

Land was wanted for social housing and a library, and the PCC agreed to sell the area to the rear of the church where the Church Hall had stood in return for the building of a community centre physically attached to and making use of the rear of the nave. The space known as the Narthex was created as well as three floors of rooms of varying sizes, including a bar. The building was opened by Glenda Jackson on 7 October 1972.

LBL built a library as part of the development, and two residential flats were included in the fabric, one of which was reserved for a caretaker but in the event was occupied by a THNC staff member, who has remained there although no longer working for THC.

At first LBL provided trained staff and funds for a full time youth project and a lunch club and support for seniors, and also ran a ‘Meals on Wheels’ kitchen at the Centre. The building also housed a pre-school, play schemes, self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous, as well as the location for refreshments after St Catherine’s Sunday morning service. Space was also let out for a fee to individuals for parties and receptions and to tutors running their own courses.

When LBL funding was cut in 1986/7, the Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Council withdrew from the Centre in order to regroup as the 170 Advice Project on the New Cross Road (170) taking most of the remaining LBL funding with it.

The Parochial Church council (PCC) decided to keep the Centre open by letting the top two floors of the building, including the second flat which was modified for use as office space, to the Carr Gomm Housing Association. This was to provide funds to supplement the remaining LBL grants (from Community Education Lewisham and the Leisure Services) and maintain the building for community use and a part time youth club staffed by seconded LBL workers was able to continue.

A Centre Co-ordinator remained in post, alongside the Building Manager and the LBL worker with the elderly. The elders’ lunch club was maintained by the Centre even after LBL withdrew the worker and all remaining grants in 1997.

When the PCC decided to retain some of the rent revenue for parish expenses, the Centre was faced with a shortfall in revenue for the costs of outreach and community workers which it was able for some time to make up with grants from charitable trusts. When the Centre Co-ordinator left in 1998 some of her responsibilities were assumed by the Building Manager whose job description was modified, and subsequently three part-time Community Development workers were recruited consecutively to work alongside her. When the final Community Development worker left in 2007 there was insufficient funding to replace her.

After the long-serving Building Manager retired in 2010, staffing was re-structured with a wider job description but shorter hours. A Centre Manager, whose post was guaranteed by the PCC until June 2012 and included community development work as well as building management, was appointed. She and the Centre cleaner became the Centre’s only staff members, supported by casual caretakers.

In 2009 Carr Gomm relinquished their lease and vacated the premises. Space in the upstairs offices was leased by artists’ groups

The stabilisation of the letting income from major tenants and the establishment of the new Centre Manager post allowed more development of community work after several years when the priority had been to maximise income to keep the building open and available to the community.

The PCC provided a dependable regular income for the centre by annually allocating some of its rental income from the top two floors to the Centre. This has risen from £30,000 to £35,000 in 2019. The Centre itself raises money by letting out spaces to local classes and groups and for children’s parties. Other funds are raised by applications to grant-making bodies.

The old Library Space

When LBL closed the Library in 1998 and put the space on the market, a community campaign, led by a group of artists organised around the Telegraph Hill Arts Festival Group, was eventually successful in winning the right to put in an offer for the Library building.

During the campaign it was accepted that the Church as the freeholder of the Centre building was the appropriate organisation to buy the building and the purchase was made with money donated by the Haberdashers’ Company – the city livery company which owns the St Catherine’s living and appoints the Vicar – and from the Central Church Fund.

In allowing the group to bid for the space LBL stressed that an important element was the continued provision of facilities for vulnerable Carr Gomm residents. Since a Centre planning day in 1998 had identified a desire for a community café, an agreement was made to let the space to the Carr Gomm Society for use as a day centre and community café/catering training resource, with the proviso that the space was open to the public. This became Café Orange and remained open until Carr Gomm relocated in 2009. The space was then leased to the Haberdashers’ Federation to be used as a sixth form common room. The young people named it ‘Café Fed’ but it was not open to the public.

The space was then let to BeBright Projects and is used as a nursery and training facility, providing a useful resource for the neighbourhood and necessary rental income.

The Church Roof Appeal

In 2001 and 2002 surveys of the church fabric revealed essential urgent repairs needed to the roof of the church, which, with other work planned to improve the building, would cost in excess of £400,000. An appeal was launched which raised money for some repairs but it was a generous bequest from a church member which ultimately enabled the repairs to the Church to be completed in 2010.


When the Centre first opened it was managed by the Telegraph Hill Neighbourhood Council, a committee with representatives from the PCC, Lewisham Council, the Centre and user groups. When the THNC withdrew in the 1980s, the PCC took on the sole management of the Centre and set up a sub-committee to do this, which included six representatives elected from the community, representatives of users groups and six representatives selected by the PCC.

This is now known as the Telegraph Hill Centre Steering Group (THCSG) but does not exist as a separate legal organisation although it has a defining constitution. It is unable to apply for charitable status as it is already part of a charitable organisation – St Catherine’s Church.

THCSG meets about six times a year to look after the building, represent the community in discussions about the use of the building and manage staff for the PCC, which remains the employer.

The Telegraph Hill Festival

In 1993 the vicar and curate of St Catherine’s met with local organisers of the open air Day in the Park festivals of the 1980s to set up the Telegraph Hill Festival with a strong emphasis on celebrating the community through arts events. The Church had already begun with the input of an experienced community theatre practitioner, who was a member of the congregation at the time, to organise large scale community musicals. Other events accumulated, all provided by local, often professional, artists and performers on a voluntary basis. The Festival is now organised by a self-selected ad hoc group who are currently, for legal and insurance reasons, a sub group of the PCC.

Bold Vision is a community led group which responded to the 2007 LBL-funded community survey and consultation work carried out by the Centre during the Festivals of 2008 and 2009. Its mission is Strengthening Community in the heart of Telegraph Hill. It grew out of a belief that changing community needs were not all met by the facilities offered by the Centre, especially to the arts and small businesses in the area and that the ending of the leases with Carr Gomm might offer opportunities to think about more fundamental redevelopment. That original remit, when the group was first established as the Centre Development Group, a sub-group of the PCC, was revised when the Church was tasked by the Diocese with undertaking its own review and 40-year-plan.

Bold Vision is now a registered charity. As its first project, it leased the undercroft /car park space under the library and with financial support from the Church, Centre, Bold Backers and several grants, developed that space into a cafe and community resource and The Hill Station cafe opened for business in 2010. The Cafe provides a much needed space for people to meet, eat, work, perform, discuss, exhibit, gossip, learn, rest

Greener – Safer – Smarter the new slogan in 2016 developed from, and encouraged, a new enthusiasm in the community to work with St Catherine’s Church to develop the centre for the next forty years. Three new enthusiastic part time staff helped put into practice the greener, safer, smarter principles by completing work on the boiler and central heating system; checking gas safety and replacing as necessary; overhauling the fire alarm system – all cases including the church building. The main spaces were tidied up and decorated. The space at the back became the ‘cloister garden’, a green space for all ages to use and for volunteers to work in. The signage to the centre has been improved and the outside decorated. Other plans related to accessibility are afoot, but rely on funding being available.

However the future seems bright.

Over the 46 Years since the Centre was built, there have been five Vicars of St Catherine’s Church and a large number of different management committee styles and members, but throughout those years that initial spirit of cooperation and working together for the community has remained.

The current vision for the Centre, in rather different language, still echoes the thoughts of Canon Auckland at the beginning…

Telegraph Hill Centre Vision:
To be a vibrant hub at the heart of the community

Our Mission:
To provide a safe, welcoming space for everyone in the local area that facilitates

  • health and well being
  • life skills and ongoing education
  • support at every stage of life
  • community connections
View the St Catharine’s Church and Telegraph Hill centre history timeline or read our FAQs.