Introducing the Waterloo Festival 2021

blind musicians playing in st johns church

I am Euchar Gravina, Artistic Director at St John’s Waterloo and Waterloo Festival. After a year of enforced silence, we’re busy preparing to open up the church again and launch this year’s Festival with music, creativity and colourful events that we hope our Coin Street neighbours will take part in and enjoy.

St John’s Waterloo - these days known to millions as the church on the IMAX roundabout - has been a London landmark since it was built in 1824 to cater for the rapidly growing population of central London. It was restored after wartime bomb damage to become the official church of the Festival of Britain in 1951 and now, in 2021, we are about to undergo a major restoration so that our historic building can fully serve our Coin Street neighbours and the other communities around us for generations to come.

But before we close (briefly) for that renovation work, we’re hosting the 11th annual Waterloo Festival. Last year, Coin Street, with funds from Illuminated River Foundation’s Community Fund, developed and delivered art workshops for young people aged 9+. The Waterloo Festival offered a weekly platform to showcase and share the work more widely. This project provided virtual art classes for 15 young artists in our community. Their final pieces were so fantastic that Coin Street featured them on the local billboard right next to Waterloo Bridge!

waterloo festival logo respair

Our Festival theme is “Respair”, an old English word meaning the return of hope after a period of despair. It speaks of St John’s determination to be a beacon of hope after the pandemic just as we were after the war - and we’ll be commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain too. We’ll also be championing the renewed focus on equality, inclusion and climate change that has emerged during the pandemic. 

Outdoor Concerts

Headlining our music events are two series: one led by the Inner Vision Orchestra, Britain’s leading ensemble of blind musicians, and the Spotlight Chamber Series, featuring world-famous musicians such as Angela Hewitt, Pavel Kolesnikov and the Doric Quartet. If you don’t think classical music is for you, think again! Inner Vision are irresistibly uplifting and play an eclectic mix of classical and folk. Spotlight presents big name, world-class musicians in the relaxed and friendly setting of St John’s - and Coin Street residents are entitled to terrific discounts that are making international music fans sick with envy. Just put in the code “COMMUNITY” when booking here.

There will also be an afternoon of Jazz and Blues led by Southwark’s Unity Music Arts Team in the churchyard as well Morley’s finest pop and rock groups at our closing garden party on 27th June.

Woman enjoying outdoor art display in st johns coutyard gardens

Visual Arts

On the visual arts front, Morley College students, tutors and alumni have filled the crypt with a thought-provoking exhibition entitled “Into the Dark” reflecting on the legacy of the Festival of Britain and its echoes for today as we emerge from the  pandemic.  Then from 9th June, our old friends The London Group, an internationally renowned artists’ collective founded in 1913, are returning with a sculpture exhibition in the churchyard and a digital art show in the crypt - weird, wonderful and immersive.  And if walking over to St John’s isn’t enough of a stroll for you, walk back into 1951 with an audio tour of the Festival of Britain site, narrated by 20th century experts Alan Powers and Elain Harwood. (Download here).

Artwork of Hans Feibusch

Celebrating the contribution of refugee artists from Nazi Germany

In partnership with the Insiders/Outsiders Festival and Art+Christianity, we are hosting a one-day conference to shed light on the many Jewish refugee artists who fled Nazi Europe to work in Britain and who contributed so much to public art and culture - including of course Hans Feibusch whose murals at St John’s we are raising money to save. Join us for a day of fascinating talks or just come to the evening session where BBC Antiques Roadshow specialist Marc Allum will be talking about his passion for Feibusch. 

Young voices

We’re planning events with Coin Street’s Young Leaders, Waterloo Community Theatre and local choirs like the Morley Folk Choir. Coin Street’s Young Leaders run projects, events and campaigns that support youth across the borough. This year they are planning an event for local youth as part of the Waterloo Festival which will include screening films made by young people from Coin Street and Waterloo Community Theatre, with the help of Iconic Steps and funding from Lambeth ELEVATE. To round everything off, we’ll be hosting our traditional garden party, an afternoon of tea, music, dance and children’s games in the churchyard. 

When St John’s re-opens after its restoration in Spring 2022, we hope that even more Coin Street residents will make use of us. We’re planning a year-round arts and creative programme (in addition to the Festival) and our Waterloo Well programme will be up and running with employment training, therapeutic arts, gardening and youth projects. 

Have a look at our calendar on and book yourself in for some Festival fun!