A community church on Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia is to hold its last service on 5 November — bringing an end to more than 40 years of Sunday worship at its chapel.
The closure of the Sunday service is one of many changes that have occurred over the past few years as the charity that runs All Souls Clubhouse underwent a restructuring which culminated, among other things, in the creation of a new charitable organisation.
Since the late 1950s there has been a small chapel for the ministry workers to use at the Clubhouse. Then as the community grew in size, every Sunday from the late 1970s, a congregation formed with their own vicar for an hour-long service of praise, prayer and preaching, and to share in Holy Communion.
Although it is part of the larger All Souls Langham Place, All Souls Cleveland Street services follow a different sermon series. It is very much a local church, rather than the grander building in Langham Place which draws a much larger congregation from further afield.
The little upstairs chapel at Cleveland Street has been a special place for its small community. When it was refurbished in 1992 it received national recognition when Queen Elizabeth came to see it the following year and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion.
All Souls Clubhouse was first set up as a charity in November 1958 as a “community-based Christian organisation working to enable and empower local people to address their social, educational, emotional, physical and spiritual needs”, states its annual report of 2019.
It carried out youth work, and provided a Church of England community centre serving local people in a neighbourhood that was “developing rapidly but which is still home to a less well-off and vulnerably-housed population of around 5,000 people, who are often forgotten behind the area’s increasingly wealthy facade”.
“Many experience loneliness, isolation, poverty, crime and racism. We serve those in greatest need, mostly living in council and rented accommodation,” states the report.
The All Souls Cleveland Street community church is attended by local Christians and “it works closely with the community centre and other churches to run local missions and holiday clubs as well as wider community activities”.
However, during 2019 All Souls Langham Place, following its governance re-structure, took on the financial responsibility of maintaining Clubhouse property, which meant bringing the maintenance of all of its buildings into a central department. “In order to help subsidise these costs, the Church also took on the management and income of the Clubhouse room rentals”, states the report.
All Souls Church also worked to set up a new governance framework for the Clubhouse charity and agreed to move from a charitable trust to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) called All Souls Serve The City (ASSTC).
The CIO was established on 1 January 2021 and the activities of All Souls Clubhouse (an unincorporated charity), together with two ministries from All Souls Church, Langham Place were transferred to it in order to better position the main charitable projects — known as ministries — for “the needs of the twenty-first century,” states the 2022 annual report for ASSTC.
“Typically, in any given week the ASSTC ministries have more contact with non-Christians than any other part of All Souls,” states the 2022 report.
The Clubhouse building is owned by the Parochial Church Council of All Souls Church, Langham Place which also has the power to appoint and remove several trustees of ASSTC.
ASSTC located at the Clubhouse will now focus on three ministries: Tamar, an outreach project to support sex workers; All Souls Local Action Network, a project that supports homeless people across the West End; and Senior Care, a project which provides for local older people and includes a regular Wednesday lunch club.
Schools Work, a fourth ministry, is currently paused while long-term funding is secured but there are plans to restart it when that funding is in place. All Souls continues to support the music department, school assemblies, holiday club and the board of governors at All Souls School, Foley Street. A youth club is also run at the Clubhouse.
Around 200 people attend the free English class each Friday at All Souls, Langham Place, which helps serve the many refugees now resident in Fitzrovia.
But from this summer the congregation of the community church at Clubhouse has known that its regular meetings would likely come to an end.
Between 15 and 30 people attend each Sunday morning but a change in the way All Souls Langham Place and ASSTC is run, the requirements of the charitable work, and a shrinking congregation at the Clubhouse makes continuing the church hidden behind a row of Georgian houses no longer viable.
Across the Church of England weekly attendance fell seven percent between 2016 and 2019 due to society becoming increasingly secular. The pandemic hastened this change as people sought to worship somewhere closer to home or attend a service by a church that offered online services.
But a 2022 report suggests that the decline is due to a lack of Sunday services being available at many churches, rather than a lack of people wanting to attend.
The small congregation at Clubhouse explored a number of options with All Souls to continue meeting. They could set up their own church, form a prayer group, form a fourth congregation, or join the main congregation at All Souls Langham Place.
Having ruled out the other options as unrealistic, it is the fourth option — joining All Souls Langham Place — that remains open.
Most of the congregation understand and accept with a sadness that the church services at Cleveland Street have had to come to an end. But they also see it as inevitable that many people will go their separate ways.
“We’ll be scattered to the four winds,” one long-time attendee said.
“Some will go to All Souls Langham Place, but many will seek out other churches in search of the special community they once had at Clubhouse.”
Indeed, many attendees live outside of Fitzrovia and have already moved onto other churches closer to home.
However, others have said privately that more could have been done to continue the distinct and long-standing congregation at the Clubhouse.
In 2022, Luke Ijaz, who had been Clubhouse Vicar since 2014, moved over to serve on the ministry team of All Souls, Langham Place. His role was filled at the Clubhouse by Jonathan Gillespie.
The Revd Gillespie, acting vicar at All Souls Cleveland Street, told Fitzrovia News that resolving to stop the services has been difficult but necessary.
“Reaching the decision together to close the congregation has been hard and yet we feel it is right.
“We’re really pleased that community outreach will continue from Clubhouse and All Souls remains committed to bringing the good news of Jesus to Fitzrovia. Everyone aged 11-18 is very welcome to join us in the Clubhouse each Friday between 7-9pm for youth club.”
The Ven Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London, told Fitzrovia News:
“The Clubhouse has been the host of many ministries over the years. Though we are sad to see the closure of the Clubhouse in its current form, its social ministries will continue through All Souls Serve The City, sharing the gospel, improving the lives of those on the margins of society, and building better relationships with social services and the police.”