An interview with the Reverend who helped inspire Rev

An interview with the Reverend who helped inspire Rev

Meet Shoreditch Church’s Reverend, Paul Turp

Guest blogger Joe Struggles went to talk to Reverend of Shoreditch church, Paul Turp about the history of the church, the problems it currently faces and Rev.‘s relevance within modern Britain.

We’re used to hosting a myriad of clients here at First Option Location Studio – be that shooting fashion stills with Net-a-Porter, online videos with Waitrose, cookery shows with The Hairy Bikers or having baritone opera singer Dave Stout blast away any missed cobwebs in our converted factory. However, just across the road from us, our Shoreditch neighbours St Leonard’s Church have followed in our footsteps, branching into the hire space game.

Once the epicentre of the Roman Army’s settler stronghold in England, the grounds have been a muse for Shakespearean actors, now documented by scores of students from London’s colleges and art schools, who shoot films and stills in its crypt, as well as musicians such as former Detroit altar boy-turned-rock star Jack White.

And it doesn’t stop at archaic armies or influential artists. Over the last few years, the church has played sanctuary for BBC Two’s award-winning comedy Rev., starring Tom Hollander as Revd Adam Smallbone.

Now in its third series, Rev. boasts more than two million viewers a week, owing partly to the fruitful comparison between bucolic sanctuaries of the UK’s rural countryside and the gritty, eye-opening encumbrances faced by the inner-city church in a multicultural, secular Britain.

Out of his depth after a promotion from a sleepy pastoral parish to the busy St Saviour’s in our very own Shoreditch, Revd Smallbone crusades against the continual threat of closure after chronic underinvestment and an over-active sense of integrity renders St. Saviour’s in, well, not the best of shapes. Something that Paul Turp, reverend at St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch, knows all too well.

‘I’ve just sent a colleague to fix the leak in the roof with a roll of Gaffer tape’, said Paul humbly walking the St Leonard’s aisle, ‘and the electricity man will be over shortly to check how much he can charge us through our metre.’


Paul Terp

It’s strange. The building itself, on paper, is worth a healthy £18m. However Paul, like Adam, continues to fund a fight for an increasing amount of socialist issues in London, such as drug abuse or homelessness, that continuously knock on the church door and plague the rest of the city.

‘There is only so much blood you can get out of a stone. I have to find the equivalent of £90k a year to keep my doors open. The congregation can’t do this, so I have to use the building for music, drama and events.’

Not long ago, St Leonard’s, thought of as the first Christian place of worship in the nation, had to find £25,000 in three weeks, otherwise builders working on the roof would stop working. And a church without a roof can’t offer shelter to those in need.

‘We found it by completely digging into every reserve we’ve got, begging,’ said Paul, who has recently raised funds by putting on a production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, a play that premiered at St Leonard’s as far back as the early 17th century, to mark the anniversary of the dead playwrite’s 450th birth this year.

‘We had a contract to start filming Rev., and you can’t film if there is scaffolding. When we took the north roof apart we found a horror story, which cost around £25,000 to put right.’

The church itself is just off Shoreditch High Street, which boasts a transient population of more than 40,000 people on a Saturday night alone. Paul shepherds this passing crowd into the church through various activities, such as hosting theatre and drama events for London dwellers while maintaining the church’s reserve for regular attendees.

Much like our First Option Location Studio, it seems, one moment both hire spaces are still and deathly silent, allowing us to ponder and appreciate the pasts of our venues – our studio being an old Victorian zip and suspender factory, St Leonard’s being one of the oldest places of worship in the nation. Next, both buildings are awash with people, temporarily harbouring the likes of film and photography crews, theatre casts and congregations. We like to think we’ve developed our own set of worshippers, anyway!

St Leonard’s sits in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, two of the most deprived boroughs in the entire nation. Yet despite being less than a 10 minute walk from Liverpool Street and it’s iconic Gherkin, one of the richest financial hubs in the London, St Leonard’s still struggles. Not forgetting London is one of the wealthiest cities on the planet.

‘It’s that extreme. The rate of child poverty in the parish is around 40 per cent over the national average,’ says Paul. ‘This is why the church has to be open for everyone. It’s only on the pews of this church that you will get people from those extremes sitting side by side and afterwards drinking coffee together.’

And despite this juxtaposition of wealth at Shoreditch church, which premiered 19 of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, St Leonard’s outlook seems morose.

‘The sad reality is, however, that two Easters from now, this church will be bankrupt.’

Should the BBC and Rev.’s producers, Big Talk Productions, look to commission a feature length version of the programme, however, we’re pretty certain St Leonard’s tenancy in Shoreditch will be extended for a little while longer.

Follow Joe on Twitter here or catch him on his food blog, Late Night Lunches.