Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Church gets new life as theatre

St Stephen's Church
The interior of the church has remained unchanged

An empty Victorian church in north London has been saved from dereliction by celebrity endorsements and will reopen as an arts and theatre venue.

St Stephen's Church in Hampstead has not been in use since 1977 and had fallen into disrepair.

Architect Michael Taylor and his wife began a campaign for funds to restore the Grade I-listed building in 1998.

The church, which will reopen in March, received support from actors such as Dame Judi Dench and Jude Law.

'Spectacular space'

Mr Taylor's trust, St Stephen's Restoration and Preservation Trust, began restoration work on the church with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

The campaign, which raised 1m from local residents and supporters, now boasts a total fund of 4.5m.

Mr Taylor said: "I've absolutely no idea how we raised all the money we needed to save it.

Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench and Jude Law backed the restoration campaign

"People wanted to make savage intrusions into the interior of the building.

"The beauty of our plan is that it left the main body of the building exactly as it was."

The first production staged in the revamped church will be a musical version of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The co-director of theatre company Antic Disposition John Riseboro said: "It's a spectacular space.

"We chose The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as our first production because it's a story about a land coming back to life after many years of winter, just like this building has come to life after 30 years of decay."

Mr Taylor hopes to cover the cost of maintaining the venue by renting out the space.

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