Brian Willetts, Director of Development, discusses the importance of community building, outreach, and fundraising efforts aimed at supporting the restoration of the church and advancing its mission of inclusivity.
St Paul writes in 1Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” This makes all of us ‘living stones’, each with our place in building up God’s world, with Jesus being the chief Cornerstone of our faith. We’re unified therefore as the Body of Christ.
As we begin 2024, we have chosen the word ‘Cornerstone’ as the title of a new monthly blog from the Development Department, as it communicates so much of what we are endeavouring to achieve each day, as we engage, have conversations and work to build relationships with those who work, live, and come together to worship here at St James’s from within our parish and beyond. The PCC at St James’s has asked us to do what Paul shared, to offer those we come into contact with a purpose, hope, belonging and connection. As a community in this unique part of London and beyond, together with the neighbours we know and don’t yet know, we build the kingdom through our passion and work to make St James’s a place that welcomes all, without exception, of all faiths and none.
‘Cornerstone’ has an architectural meaning as well, and so it’s a good word to use as we continue to work hard to secure all we need to make possible the architectural restoration of St James’s alongside the transformation and support of our church’s vision and values. We have so much to celebrate as we reflect on 2023. As a department we continue to work to build relationships and raise the funds that keep the doors open at St James’s, the doors that, thanks to The Wren Project, will remain open, as they have been for the past 340 years, serving the community for which it was built and meeting the needs of all who walk into this remarkable space each day of the year.
We started 2023 with a presentation to Project Giving Back who are the charity created by the sponsors of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, to consider supporting the creation of a St James’s Garden at the 2024 show. An important part of building relationships is telling our story and sharing all that makes St James’s special. As a church, we want people to recognise and be inspired by God’s love, demonstrated through our faith in action, so that we can continue to do the work we do. Having the opportunity to share that good news nationally was important to us in Development, and therefore why we approached Project Giving Back. Having shared our story, Project Giving Back unanimously offered St James’s a main avenue garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, with a grant of £400,000. It’s thought that St James’s is the first church to be represented at Chelsea Flower Show in this way. The garden is designed by the award-winning garden architect Robert Myers, who is also designing our own St James’s Garden as part of The Wren Project. The Garden’s title is ‘Imagine the World to be Different’. The fundraising campaign associated with the show will focus on support for The Wren Project Garden and as part of this campaign. Reflecting St James’s long-standing commitment to environmental action, with every £5 raised, £1 will go towards planting a tree (more details to follow), the creation of our own St James’s Forest, if you like. A series of events throughout the year on different topics and with different partners will start during the Flower Show. ‘Conversations Under Trees’ will invite partners to join with us in mutual and creative conversations, inspired by the conversations that happen every day in our garden as part of the Caravan counselling project.
This was a great start to 2023 and we are now working hard to make our presence at the Chelsea Flower Show as impactful as we can. More information to follow over the coming months, including ways to get involved. Meanwhile, please note in your diary 21–25 May we hope you will visit, be part of it, and pray for what will be a fantastic garden, visited by tens of thousands across the week of the show.
Imagine the World to be Different
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh is the Patron of The Wren Project and in March 2023 he offered to host a special dinner to thank donors who had contributed thus far to The Wren Project and to encourage potential donors. Eighty invited guests attended and celebrated together this landmark moment for the project. With donors attending having pledged £4.4 million at that point, it was an important opportunity to say thank you.
We continued to build on communicating and sharing our story with a very special concert in April with the world-famous Cory Brass Band and the commission of ‘St James’s – A New Beginning’, composed by their conductor Philip Harper. Supported by our friends at the Salvation Army’s Regent Hall on Oxford Street, the concert attracted an audience of over 350 people. The name of St James’s and The Wren Project has reached tens of thousands of people ever since, with ‘A New Beginning’ having been chosen for the National Brass Band Championships in the UK at The Royal Albert Hall. More recently, the work was featured at the Belgian Brass Band Championships and over the coming months will be performed in Sweden and at the North America Brass Band championships.
The work features the hymn tune written by a former organist of SJP called ‘St James’s’. You can read Philip’s synopsis and listen to the work performed recently in Belgium.
St James’s – A New Beginning
We kickstarted the summer with more music, in a spectacular concert at St James’s given by The King’s Singers in June, in support of The Wren Project.
Across the summer we continued to work alongside the Creative Department as we journeyed towards the installation of Che Lovelace’s paintings in the church, as part of the Cuguano250 celebrations. One of the great relationships cultivated as a result of the dinner hosted by our patron in April, was with Tai-Heng Cheng who, with his husband Cole Harrell, very kindly came forward with a gift to make possible the commission and the festival to mark this very special anniversary for St James’s, and to commit to ongoing conversations and actions regarding racial justice and liberation. It was an important moment to mark, and it was an incredible series of gatherings that forged new relationships and generated enhanced engagement.
Tai-Heng, a leading global lawyer, has now agreed to become the new Chair of our American Friends of St James’s, who over the past year have contributed to our work with regular giving and major grants. Philip Bobbitt KBE has taken on the role of President of our American Friends.
As we journeyed towards the close of the year, we did so by launching the Changemaker Programme, as part of The Wren Project with a major event at St James’s Palace hosted by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Over 200 guests gathered from across the UK and the USA to be present at the launch which featured a discussion panel hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald to discuss the five core subjects associated with the changemaker programme: Arts, Music, Business, Civil Society, and the Environment. The Panel was made up of national experts in their field that included Dame Sharon White – CEO of John Lewis, Kwame Kwei-Armah – Artistic Director of the Young Vic, and the founder of Kids Against Plastic – Amy Meek. A three-month consultation is now taking place, headed by Revd Dr Mariama Ifode-Blease, to establish the foundations of the Changemaker Programme with participants from the UK and USA.
Our hallmark events across 2023 enabled us to build many great relationships from across our parish and beyond, not just to support The Wren Project and festivals but importantly to support St James’s vision, spirituality, mission and outreach work. As part of this, we have developed several great relationships with our corporate friends within the parish, some of whom have also become volunteers at Feast. One example is a new friend Vision Blue with a gift of £3,500. Their business supports the global transition of clean energy. Another is the Army & Navy Club, who have nominated us as their chosen charity for the next three years and Killik, who donated £8,000 in food and funds to support Feast and Sunday Breakfast. Westminster Council and The Big Give also supported our work in 2023, raising over £32,000, which includes support for St James’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker advocacy.
We have much to celebrate as we reflect on 2023 and I am mindful of the huge task ahead of us in 2024. It costs the church nearly £5,000 a day to keep the doors of St James’s open as a place of peace and hospitality, to enable worship, our outreach, and special events to take place. We are grateful for the support of our many friends who live and work in the parish and indeed those across the world, as well as the congregation to enable this work to take place and keep the doors open.
As part of the congregation, the core community that gathers to pray every Sunday, I invite you to consider how you can help St James’s this year by organising your own fundraiser to support our outreach work and keep our doors open to the parish. The team are here to help and support you. We all can play our part and participate by creating a lasting foundation that for our time, ensures that St James’s has a future full of hope and imagination.
To help us, I introduce you to Ted and Charlotte, who form the small Development Department and with myself, each day of the week, work to engage new parishioners to support our work here at St James’s.
Ted Smyth – Head of Philanthropy
When, about a year ago, a recruiter phoned me and asked if I’d heard of St James’s Piccadilly and whether I’d consider working there I nearly dropped my phone. I certainly had, and certainly would! Since joining in April 2023 my feet have barely touched the ground; and whilst I began as Trusts and Foundations Manager to support church activity and outreach, soon responsibility for ‘Individual Giving’ was rolled into my job and I became ‘Head of Philanthropy’. I work together with the PCC and Revd Dr Ayla Lepine the Associate Rector to support congregational giving.
Prior to moving here, I spent nearly four years working in Business Development for a national charity delivering drug and alcohol services, primarily in prisons, and I am still involved with a number of criminal justice charities, including the Welcome Directory (of which St James’s is now a proud member), and as a trustee of Sing Inside. My own church is St Matthew’s Westminster, just across the park, and when I’m not fundraising for St James’s or attempting to finish a PhD in Criminology, I run a small choir which I take to sing in cathedrals around the country.
It’s an enormous privilege to raise money to support the work of St James’s and one which gets me out of bed with a spring in my step every day. Here’s to a successful 2024!
Charlotte Orrell-Jones – Head of Events
It is hard to believe that it is now a year since I joined the Development Office at St James’s. Where has time gone?
I have a long professional history of event management in larger not for profits and, after a short career break to undertake caring responsibilities, I was delighted to return to the workplace within an environment that aligned with my interests and values. St James’s with its beautiful building, capital campaign, active creative programme, social outreach and interesting and committed people ticked all the boxes.
My first year here has been busy to say the least with the royal gala at Spencer House to launch The Wren Project, an auction at Christie’s, the launch of the Changemaker programme at St James’s Palace and our own Christmas gala concert to name but a few. I am looking forward to more landmark events next year including a gala dinner at our partner church St Barts in New York and events around our show garden at Chelsea Flower Show amongst others.