Wednesday, 28 April 2021


In the shadow of Windrush tower block, The Church of the Holy Family, Blackbird Leys is moments away from the busy Oxford Ring Road East. It has been serving Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, URC and Baptist communities for over fifty years. The church was a delightful outcome of the post-war church building boom. It was design was a poster child for the Liturgical Movement*

It is extremely rare for permission be given to demolish a Listed building

 The church was built to serve the Blackbird Leys housing estate which was established by Oxford Council between the 1950s and 1980s to address housing shortages and in particular provide homes for the workforce at the nearby Cowley car factory. Cowley today knocks out the BMW Mini.


The Church, built in 1964-1965 by Colin Shewring, has a timber hyperbolic paraboloid roof designed by Hugh Tottenham. Tottenham was a principal exponent of the 'h-p' technology. (see footnote ‘Roof Talk’). Also, it has an unusual heart-shaped plan with many architect-designed fixtures and fittings. Little wonder then that English Heritage gave it a Grade II badge. 


It was not to last. I don’t understand post-war construction well enough to know why so much of it falls apart or falls down.


Earlier this month Oxford Mail reporter Fran Wray’s intrepid piece on the church’s demolition includes a comment: Trustees and planners said the building, on Cuddlesdon Way, was in need of ‘urgent repairs’ explaining that the lights cannot be controlled, the windows cannot be opened, the floor slopes and the pews are rigid.



** Breaking News! **

As of April 7th, 2021. Planning Permission was granted by Oxford City Council both to demolish and rebuild the site. It is extremely rare for permission be given to demolish a Listed building, but after 4 years of hard work by our team we are very pleased that we can really start the major fundraising and soon be able to start on the project.


Our lovely church was condemned in December 2018. Thanks to our consulting team for all their amazing work in getting us to this place and to Historic England who have worked closely with us on the fine detail of possibilities. We now have planning permission, subject to the Secretary of States final approval, to go ahead and build a new church and community cafe, hall, and incubator spaces along with 20 flats as affordable housing. 
The community will be well served goingforwards with a fit-for-purpose, environmentally and user-friendly building, taking us forward into the next decades.


The council officers who wrote the report also praised the 'efficient use' of the site by building more homes. This new house of God would link together with the community centre, cafe and homes in a quad-shaped complex of buildings. God love’s a latte. 

Since drafted this piece I have been in contact with the Anglican incumbant, Reverend Heather Carter. A delightful exchange of correspondence which has resulted in my organising the printing of post cards of my drawing for sale as part of the fundraising for the new church.  This was also chastening, I had just assumed that this was another church bash and build, however evidence suggests that the building is close to collapse so a new church is the only option for the five faiths of this community.



* The Liturgical Movement (a 20th-century effort in Christian churches to re-establish the active participation of the congregation in the liturgy, and official rites of the Christian religion). Transl. altars facing outwards, the people are seated in a semi-circle and choir shoved out of the way somewhere, the modern church.




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Thank you very much for your comments - Tim