Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, visited the new National Pugin Centre at the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate last Friday.
The new Education, Research, and Visitor Centre is being created with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the Friends of St Augustine’s, and other generous donors. The Centre explains the twin stories of St Augustine of Canterbury and Augustus Pugin – both key figures in English history and culture.
Mr Mackinlay was shown around by Fr Marcus Holden (Rector of St Augustine’s) and John Coverdale (Centre Manager). He saw all areas of the new Centre: the Schoolroom (the main visitor entrance and function room); the East Cloister (where there are museum-standard display cases); the Sacristy (where the priest prepares for services); the Upper Sacristy and Library (which will hold books and manuscripts for study and research).
The Visitor Centre areas are almost complete. Interpretation materials, audio-visual equipment, and new lighting make it a dynamic and informative area. New electricity, heating, water, and other essential services have also been installed, bringing the site up to twenty-first century standards.
Craig Mackinlay also saw the inside of the church, which is being restored to Augustus Pugin’s original designs. Work is still ongoing in this area, with scaffolding towers and other hazards throughout.
Mr Mackinlay made a particular visit to Augustus Pugin’s tomb. Pugin designed the “Big Ben” clock face and Elizabeth Tower, as well as much of the interior of the Houses of Parliament, where Mr Mackinlay spends much of his time as a MP.
Speaking about the visit, Craig Mackinlay said, “It was a pleasure, as always, to visit St Augustine's. I was most impressed with the work that has been carried out on the Visitor Centre and the restored interior since my last tour. I look forward to, and wish St Augustine’s every success for, the imminent opening of their new facility. It will be an asset to Ramsgate encouraging more people to visit and learn the stories about the site of the Shrine of St Augustine and the final resting place of Augustus Pugin, also the architect of the Palace of Westminster; I recommend a visit.”
Rector, Fr. Marcus Holden, said, “Craig Mackinlay’s visit symbolises the special link between this extraordinary place in Ramsgate and the Palace of Westminster. So much of Westminster was designed by Pugin whilst he lived in Ramsgate. He dedicated his life in Ramsgate to building this church for the town. It stands as a constant reminder that St Augustine landed here, bringing Christianity to the English, and so beginning a major and continuing part of English history.”
Centre Manager, John Coverdale, said, “So much progress has been achieved since we welcomed Craig Mackinlay for the first time in September 2015. The new Centre and restored areas are really coming to life. There is so much promise for the future here, as a local resource and an attraction to bring many people to the area.
“It is wonderful to see the local community’s engagement and support of this project, which is involving people from across Ramsgate and Thanet, helping to keep this place open for everyone. I’m really excited to see such a transformation and to see the new public access it creates.”
St Augustine’s is one of Ramsgate’s most popular single attractions, with annual visitor footfall over 10,000 visitors per year (not including religious services). The new Centre is expected to increase footfall, and to attract more people to Ramsgate. Visitors already come from across the UK, Europe, America, and Australasia.
The Centre’s activity programme seeks to engage with the local community. Exhibitions and displays will take place over the summer months. Talks, lectures, and workshops will take place throughout the year, especially during St Augustine Week (26th May – 4th June 2017) and Pugin Week (September). New children’s and learning books and leaflets will be produced, as well as specially-commissioned introductory videos. Music and opportunities for people to sing remain important, with the Schola Augustini
choir restarting this spring. Opportunities to volunteer are broad and varied, and the volunteering scheme is a key way for St Augustine’s and the public to engage.
The Centre is almost entirely manned by volunteers, with a team of about 30 people. The new Visitor Centre is an expansion of the site’s activity, and more volunteers are required. The volunteering team is drawn from across Ramsgate and Thanet, and is a lively group of people. People interested in volunteering in front-of-house or administrative roles should contact the Centre Manager, John Coverdale, on email@example.com
or on 01843 606756.
The value of the project is over £1 million. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has granted £827,200 towards this project, covering most of the cost and enabling the new Visitor Centre and restoration to go ahead. In addition to the HLF project, the organ in the church is being restored at the same time, which will be reinstalled later this year. A new altar, replicating the original Pugin one which was destroyed in the 1970s, will be built later this year in addition to the HLF project.
At 5pm on 3rd June, the restored site will be officially reopened and blessed by the Archbishop of Southwark. An official civic opening will take place at a later date.
Leading up to 3rd June will be St Augustine Week, during which the new Visitor Centre and restored church will be the central point of numerous events, including a visit from Cardinal Pell from Rome. Further details of St Augustine Week will be released shortly.