The Glass-House designed and delivered a workshop to help Union Chapel explore both the past and future of their Sunday School building with local people.

project date: 2021

The Story

The Glass-House Community Led Design was invited by Union Chapel, a working church, live entertainment venue and charity in Islington, to deliver a full day workshop in their Sunday School in North London. 

The workshop was part of a wider programme led by Union Chapel to connect with local people and organisations and to inform the refurbishment and future use of the Sunday School building. The workshop aimed to create an opportunity for those participating to explore the architecture and stories of this significant heritage building, and to consider how these could shared through an interpretive piece or curated programme.The workshop also sought to explore how the building, once refurbished, could serve as a resource to the local community as a flexible meeting and event space.   

The workshop consisted of a range of creative activities designed to help our participants unpick:

  • What is special about the Sunday School
  • What is special in their wider neighbourhood
  • What stories from the past, present and future of Union Chapel and the Sunday School are important to them 
  • How the Sunday School could connect with the wider community in Islington looking forward. 

We welcomed a diverse range of local people into the session, who all either lived, worked or studied in Islington. 

The Sunday School

The Grade II* Sunday School sits to the rear of the well known Union Chapel building, and was built alongside the church in 1877 as a place of education in Victorian London. The space has seen a myriad of uses across its almost 150-year history, but is now due a substantial refurbishment to preserve the existing structure and reconfigure the internal space to better suit the Sunday School’s current and future needs. This work will also include the planning and production of an interpretation piece, which will showcase the Sunday School’s history and heritage, helping visitors make sense of the building around them. 

The Workshop

Our full-day workshop was delivered in the Sunday School itself, and invited participants to explore the Sunday School and wider Union Chapel spaces through a series of exploratory activities, knowledge exchanges between participants and facilitators, open discussions and creative tasks. 

We started the workshop with a walking tour of Union Chapel and the Sunday School, before inviting participants to explore and mark with post-it notes elements of the Sunday School’s design which jumped out to them. Using clusters of post-it notes as talking points, we then facilitated a conversation about the history and heritage of the Sunday School with support from Barbara Basini, Head of Conservation and Building Projects at Union Chapel. After a short break, participants mapped existing services and amenities in the borough on A1 maps, which allowed us to then explore what was missing from this map, and how the Sunday School could meet these needs. After lunch, we then explored interpretation pieces before using craft materials to do some creative visioning for the Sunday School interpretation piece, and potential associated activities, in order to create a manifesto for the future piece.


Impact at Union Chapel

Following the delivery of the workshop at Union Chapel’s Sunday School, The Glass-House produced a summary report which captured an overview of the workshop activities, outcomes and participant voices. This report formed part of a next stage funding application to the National Heritage Lottery Fund for Union Chapel’s Sunday School Stories project. 

In October 2022, Union Chapel was awarded a grant of £1,054,500 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for the three-year Sunday School Stories project. This work will include the delivery of an engaging activity programme co-created with and for local people and communities, essential repairs to the listed Sunday School and the creation of an archive commemorating the rich history of Union Chapel. The interpretation piece will sit within these pieces of work, helping to engage local people with the heritage of the Sunday School. 

We’re so pleased to see this fantastic organisation and heritage site in North London receive this level of funding for building works and a programme of engagement with local people. Keep an eye on the Union Chapel website for updates on their Sunday School Stories project.

Impact for Participants

Our participants all either worked, lived and/ or studied in Islington, and hailed from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Whilst the workshop introduced us to the wide range of activities, amenities and individuals within the borough, it also connected participants within the room to each other, the heritage and stories within the Sunday School, and other activities happening locally.  

“I enjoyed the mapping session in groups as I learnt about places and organisations  I didn’t know about” – Participant voice

“[one important thing I’ve learnt is] the need to use the full ‘inventory’ of creative techniques to tell many of the different stories the [Sunday School] building has.” – Participant voice


Union Chapel Heritage Workshop with Canonbury Primary School

    • Read the workshop publication – here.
    • Read our innovating practice piece about the day – here.
    • Read Barbara Basini’s blog about the workshop – here.

Our work with other places of worship:

  • Empowering Design Practices – here.

You can read about our work in Hastings with White Rock Trust exploring the redevelopment of the historic Hastings Piers here.