Dame Judi Dench, the stage and television actress, lives locally and is one of those backing the scheme.
St Stephen's is a Victorian Gothic building owned by the Diocese of London and has been derelict for more than 20 years. Tired of seeing the building fall into ruin, residents last year formed a charity to restore it. The St Stephen's Arts Centre Trust has long-term plans to stage drama, music, cabaret and film showings, as well as developing a children's theatre project for schools, building a cafe theatre and installing floodlights.
Jeremy Dodd, trust chairman, says: 'Hampstead is short of venues for either arts or music, but this will also be an important community building. If you take Hampstead as a whole you haven't got any large places for meetings, performances and conferences. I have heard they could get 1,200 people crammed in on a religious feast day.'
Mr Dodd, an architect, believes in urban regeneration and the preservation of landmarks as anchors in the community. 'You have to make the best use of assets. This church is a poignant example of wasted opportunity. When you have people going to a place for years, in this case to worship, something remains. So many things change - this is about getting an urban continuity.'
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