Each month, we spend five minutes with one of the impressive professionals that call Harley Street home. This month we’re meeting Ashley Nixon, Development Manager at St Marylebone Parish Church.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work at St Marylebone Parish Church?
As Development Manager at St Marylebone my role involves fundraising to maintain the parish church building and support St Marylebone’s operations and programme of community activity and engagement.
St Marylebone Parish Church is a magnificent Grade 1-listed building designed by architect Thomas Hardwick in 1813 and is the parish’s fourth parish church. Keeping the building in good repair is a huge challenge and we recently completed a large renovation project which will not only preserve the building for generations to come but allow us to continue with our extensive community and heritage work. Based so close to Harley Street, our parish church has always had a focus on wellbeing and through our community programme, it supports some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Describe your average day.
My days are always busy and varied which is what makes the role so enjoyable. I help organise events and projects which may involve meeting with local government, charities, businesses or residents. I also look at ways to fund these projects and spend time researching and writing proposals to trusts and potential donors. I am currently looking for funding for St Marylebone HCC, the psychotherapy centre which the parish church has run in the crypt since 1985.
The HCC offers low-cost mental health support to clients who are unable to afford private therapy and is funded by the parish church. The number of people seeking support has risen dramatically since COVID which means external funding is essential for us to continue this vital work.
How did you get to where you are today?
I studied Business at university and then worked for over 20 years in marketing and hospitality. The pandemic forced me to revaluate my career and volunteering locally helped me realise a passion for community and the charity sector. I was able to bring my commercial experience to a community focussed role as Head of Community Investment for the Howard de Walden Estate before moving to St Marylebone Parish Church. I’ve been in my current role for just over six months so still new to the job and learning every day.
How has Covid-19 impacted your organisation?
The parish church prides itself on being open 365 days a year to support those of all faiths and none who may need somewhere to turn to or maybe just looking for somewhere warm and quiet away from their busy life. It was therefore devastating to be forced to close during COVID as part of the national lockdown, when we knew this was the time our community needed us most. We adapted quickly, supported the Lord Mayor’s COVID volunteering initiative and started offering virtual church services, online psychotherapy sessions and virtual concerts and support groups for our congregation and wider community. We wanted to make sure people knew they were not alone. Although regular services have resumed, we have continued many of our online services for those who are unable to join us in person.
What do you like most about being based on Harley Street?
There is so much history in the area, beautiful architecture and so much to see and do. I’m excited for Spring as the area comes alive with the warmer weather. St Marylebone Parish Church is based on Marylebone Road, just a short walk away from Regents Park, The Royal Academy of Music and Marylebone High Street with all it has to offer. There is always something going on and something new to discover. My daughter recently started at The St Marylebone CE School and it is lovely to be able to explore the area again with her and discover new things I may have previously missed.
How does the Harley Street BID support your business?
The BID helps us connect and collaborate with other organisations in the area who share a common goal of making the area the best it can be. Last Winter, St Marylebone Parish Church partnered with the BID in an initiative to support those struggling with financial hardship. Miracles in Marylebone raised over £9000 which was distributed to local groups such as The Fourth Feathers Youth and Community Group and The Marylebone Project as well as local families and individuals. We also collected and distributed over 250 toys to those in need at Christmas. We look forward to working with the BID on future initiatives supporting local people.
How could a visitor to the area spend their time here?
If you are into architecture and interested in the history of the area, I would suggest taking a guided walking tour. There are several fun and free self-guided audio tours available to download that allow you to experience it at your own pace. Marylebone High Street is a fantastic place to visit and you can spend hours there shopping, eating and drinking. If the weather is nice grab a table outside and take in the hustle and bustle of the High Street. If you have a dog (like me) the area is very dog friendly and very close to Regents Park so you can take your furry friends for a run about after shopping.
Any particular recommendations or hidden gems?
If you haven’t visited St Marylebone Parish Church, please pop in for a look. The Nave (ground floor) is truly spectacular and most days there will be music by students from The Royal Academy of Music or The St Marylebone CE School who use our space for practice.
The St Marylebone Parish Church Heritage Team have spent the last two years creating an interpretation programme Changing Lives celebrating the history and culture of St Marylebone and the local area. It tells the story of the area’s notable past residents including musicians, artists, architects, writers, poets, film makers, and inventors. We have permanent exhibitions in the parish church’s basement Crypt (fully accessible by a new lift and spectacular new staircase) but we also run lectures, guided walks, concerts and workshops. These are open to the public and most are free! We know that the diverse history of the area is a source of great pride for our community and of interest to locals and visitors. We hope our permanent and changing exhibitions will deepen people’s understanding and sense of connection to the area.
If you could describe the Harley Street area in three words, what would they be?
Historic, Vibrant, InspiringBack