All Saints’ Church is a grade I-listed historical building in the centre of Kingston. One thousand years old, the church’s history is clearly displayed; informative posters on the walls are supplemented by a room dedicated to its history. Of note in the church is the East Surrey Regiment’s chapel in the church’s east wing. The church itself contains gravestones of accomplished people of the past from the Kingston borough. Yet the church has now changed; after a major refurbishment four years ago, the church is now much brighter, and is used as an attractive link from Clarence Street to the marketplace. New windows and flowers outside mean the Church and it’s café is much more inviting to Kingston’s residents or visitors. The floor is made of new tiles, each bought by a member of the community. Whilst its history remains the same, the focus of All Saints’ has shifted in recent decades, from a firmly religious outlook to one of opening itself up to Kingston’s community regardless of people’s beliefs.
     The Church itself is host to a wide range of activities open to all. I spoke with Leslie Packer, a Kingston resident who attends the Church regularly and is involved with the organisation of some of these activities; one of which is the topical lunches. A monthly occurrence, the topical lunches can often attract up to 60 people, and are a way for residents to engage with local institutions and speakers, such as councillors, the university, and the emergency services. Yet these are not the only activities which are based in All Saints’ Church; other activities range from concerts to toddlers groups. These are not aimed at increasing the size of the congregation, but instead seek to use the Church setting as a community space.To this end, All Saints’ is also involved in collaboration with the chaplaincy of Kingston University, and jointly holds a book group at the campus.
     The refurbishment of the church has facilitated the use of it for wider events. Local schools use the church both for visits to its history rooms and to hold their concerts there. Even the new flowers outside the church have been out in in order to make it a more desirable place to sit and have their lunch. Another big feature of the renovated church is its café, which is open most days of the week. Many of Kingston’s residents choose the Church café as a venue due to its tranquility and beautiful setting surrounded by stained glass; a local chess club is one example!
      It is often said that church attendance, and indeed interest, are in decline. However, Leslie Packer’s opinion is that it is not a big problem at All Saints’ Church. He said that there are “lots of people with pre-school snd primary-aged children in the church, which makes a really positive difference”. Fun activities catered to younger children are held during Sunday school at the services. Despite the enthusiastic presence of younger children, interest among teenagers is undeniably low. Yet perhaps All Saints’ is adapting in other ways. It is shown to be a very forward-thinking church, and is more progressive on many current issues than the Church of England as a whole.
       This historical church is shown to be a model, being able to embrace both its heritage, and modern thinking at the same time. It seeks to provide support for all members of the community regardless of beliefs. A visit soon is thoroughly recommended for those who haven’t been in recently!