Church born again

After a decade of unashamed antipodean excess
at Bagleys, The Church has been born again
at The Forum. Love it or loathe it, the Sunday afternoon event’s heady mix of Fosters,
rock anthems, wet T-shirts and the
chance to pull is as successful as ever

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It’s the end of an era for the thousands of revellers who descend every week on the Sunday afternoon drinking institution that is The Church. But before the grief-stricken hedonism reaches an unmanageable peak, we should point out that The Church has only moved on – not closed its doors for ever.

After ten years, 500 blurry afternoons and more wet t-shirts than you could shake a can of Fosters at, The Church – motto: “If you haven’t sinned, you can’t be forgiven” – has been born again.

The step took them to the “bigger and better premises” of The Forum in Kentish Town after 10 years at their current home in Bagleys nightclub, Kings Cross.

“The time was right to move,” says Church manager Clair Sullivan.“I was kind of scared at first because you become so used to being in the same place but now we’ve had a think about it we’re all excited about it.

“Like anything, when you are doing the same thing for too long you become stale and you need the motivation to have a shake up.

"The Church is popular with those in the pursuit
of their Mr or Mrs Right...Or at least Mr or Mrs Right Now."

“We’d been there a really, really long time and it was definitely time for a new area and a new beginning. All the staff are buzzing.”

From humble beginnings 24 years ago The Church started life as a gathering point for homesick Aussies at a pub in Fulham Broadway that was next to a church whose Sunday bells heralded the opening of the bar (hence the name).

The Church has since built itself a reputation for hosting Antipodean hi jinx and drunken revelry including strippers (male and female) and wet T-shirt competitions. Quintessential Australian brews VB and Fosters are served in bags and sawdust litters the floor to absorb the spills. When classic Aussie tunes such as Cold Chisel’s “Kai San” blast from the speakers those cans are raised and arms draped around each other in a mass patriotic karaoke session.

But it’s not just the familiar tunes that revellers are here for. As one warden admits The Church is popular also with those in the pursuit of their Mr or Mrs Right..."Or at least Mr or Mrs Right Now."

The warden adds: “People come here to pick up and be picked up. Its as simple as that,”

And as the afternoon unfolds revellers can take part in The Church’s very own version of speed dating. Men prove their masculinity in beer drinking competitions and women their femininity in wet T-shirt contests. The more daring forgo the T-shirt altogether - to the whooping appreciation of the assembled crowd.

Helen, 23, from Perth, Australia, says: “It’s a real meat market here,” as an unidentified male runs past to announce excitedly to his mates: “I just gave £15 to two girls to kiss.”
While it may not be the most sophisticated way to while away a Sunday afternoon, the event is undeniably popular and its appeal is no longer limited to Australians alone. Increasingly, the crowd is filled with Londoners.

“The Church has such a great atmosphere,” 23-year-old East Londoner Justin Abrahams says.

“It’s an awesome time, especially considering it’s the middle of the day. It’s three and a half hours of being in a different world and everyone’s just there to enjoy themselves and have a good time,” he says.

“The bouncers are all really laid back and will actually talk to you, not like in some clubs.”

Helen, a 23-year-old from Perth, Australia says it’s the activities provided by The Church staff that makes it such a great Sunday out.

“It’s really good entertainment. Everyone enjoys themselves and the guys and girls get up on stage,” she says.

“It’s all about the music, everyone knows all the words and dances away.

“I’ve never been to a place where you can meet so many people and everyone is so friendly and just out to have a good time, no trouble.”

The Church had been at its Kings Cross location for 10 years, its longest home ever. But since the building of the Channel Tunnel and the subsequent redevelopment of the area, the demographic of the Kings Cross locale has changed. No longer is it a quiet and rarely-used space, instead it is teeming with activity in preparation to become what developers and investors hope will be an up-market housing estate and leisure precinct.

“When we came here it was ideal. There weren’t many residents, we’re on private land – it really was great for us.”

“But the area has changed now, it was just not suitable for us any more and it was time to move on,” Clair Sullivan says.

“What we’re really focusing on now is The Forum. We’ll have a comedian, male and female strippers, extra games and give-aways.”

Church consultant Tony Askew says The Church’s fame is unique.“It’s a secret society thing,” he says. “It’s never been advertised but every young person who’s traveling to England, especially the Australians and the Kiwis, know about it. It’s famous as a meeting place for anywhere between 800 and 2000 people every Sunday.

“The young people can be mischievous,” Tony says. “I’m not denying they’ve had a good bit to drink… but as far as I’m concerned they’re a great crowd. In all my years here I’ve never, ever seen a fight. They’re here to have a good time.”

Clair Sullivan admits that controlling the masses as they spill out of The Forum is a different logistical challenge for the Church team.

“Obviously we still have the problem of people in the street but it’s a shorter distance to the tube,” she says.

As at Kings Cross, Church wardens will line the route from The Forum to the Tube to ensure punters make their way home as safely and non-disruptively as possible.

“When the punters come out onto the street they are being silly. We have the security there as a means of controlling that silliness as opposed to actually having to prevent any crime.”

The Church opens at The Forum, Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 (Kentish Town Tube) on Sundays from12 noon till 3.30pm.

By Amy Freeborn

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