Radical history of Newington Green Meeting House celebrated with screening of rare films

Newington Green Meeting House. Photograph: Historic England Archive

Newington Green Meeting House celebrated north London’s illustrious history of grassroots campaigning with a special film screening earlier this month.

The home of the New Unity non-religious church, known for being frequented by revolutionary thinkers including Mary Wollstonecraft, hosted a showing of two rare archival films – Do Something (1970) and It’s Ours Whatever They Say (1972) – on 9 December.

The films form part of the British Film Institute’s (BFI) archival collection, and the evening was organised by Katy McGahan, who was inspired by the Meeting House’s legacy as an institute of progressive thinking.

McGahan said: “As part of my research for a documentary I’m currently working on, I visited the recently restored Newington Green Meeting House and was struck by its rich history and beautiful interior.

“It really felt quite special to sit in the very same pew that Mary Wollstonecraft had occupied back in the early 1700s. I was delighted when the programme manager gave the film night the go-ahead.

“In keeping with the Meeting House’s legacy of dissent, for the first programme [we screened] two films that document two grassroots campaigns that took place in and around the Holloway area in the early 1970s.”

Do Something is an instalment of This Week, which ran from 1956 until 1978. The episode follows residents of Islington, at the time a hotspot for gentrification, housing issues and racial tensions, as they campaign for better living conditions and facilities for their children.

It’s Ours Whatever They Say also documents the life of Islington residents amid a period of drastic change for the borough.

The film, directed by Jenny Barraclough, follows a group of Holloway mothers and community activists as they urge the council to allow them to use a disused piece of land as a playground for their children.

In the early 1970s, Islington had the least amount of open space for children to play in of any London borough. Now it is home to a dozen adventure playgrounds, and many parts of the borough are just a stone’s throw from larger green spaces – a stark contrast to the Islington of 50 years ago.

For more information, visit ngmh.org.uk.