INTERVIEW: Frances Mayhew (Fundraising and Development Manager) Caroline McNamara (Programme and Venue Manager) and Emma Stell (Marketing and Community Coordination) of Union Chapel


IN THIS PHOTO: Union Chapel, London/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniela Sbrisny  

Frances Mayhew (Fundraising and Development Manager) Caroline McNamara (Programme and Venue Manager) and Emma Stell (Marketing and Community Coordination) of Union Chapel


TO round off this International Women’s Day...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Caroline McNamara

I have been speaking with Frances Mayhew (Fundraising and Development Manager) Caroline McNamara (Programme and Venue Manager) and Emma Stell (Marketing and Community Coordination) of Union Chapel. I was eager to know how they became involved with the venue and what plans are in place for this year; which gigs they see as the finest there – I ask how Union Chapel keeps growing whilst other London venues are struggling.

I ask them whether is unusual, even in 2019, to see a big venue run by women; which artists (new or established) they recommend we check out and tell me whether, in their opinions, we are closer to equality in the music industry.


Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Frances: Good! Busy with some great events and Caroline has been at The International Live Music Conference.

How are you ‘enjoying’ this spring weather? Do you find more people come to a music venue when the weather is a bit less calm?

Emma: Well. I don’t know about that – January and August are our quietest times but they are complete opposite ends of the weather spectrum!

Frances, Caroline and Emma. How did you all become involved with Union Chapel?

Emma: I started here as an intern seven years ago and have not left...

Caroline: I’m the newest of us; I’ve been here just under a year. I came from a background in venues including the O2, Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena and was really drawn to such a special, intimate venue.

Frances: I’ve been here two years and I’m from a background in fundraising for historic venues including Wilton’s Music Hall - I was really drawn to Union Chapel by its magnificent architecture.


PHOTO CREDIT: Daniela Sbrisny

Can you describe what you do and what your roles entail?

Emma: I manage marketing and comms here – so that means being on top of all the events that are going on sale; coordinating our newsletters, socials and printed materials. I also help support the fundraising efforts and other organisations based here: Union Chapel Church and The Margins Project for those facing homelessness and crisis.

Caroline: I’m The Head of Programme and Venue Management – that means that I’m shaping our programme of 250 events a year. I’m always looking to bring exciting, popular and innovative events here.

Frances: I am Head of Fundraising and Development. We’re at the beginning of an exciting, £1.8 million capital and community development phase called Sunday School Stories – which aims to create a new space for events and community use at the Chapel.


IN THIS IMAGE: The 2018 line-up for Organ Reframed/IMAGE CREDIT: Union Chapel

How do you think the Union Chapel differs from other venues in terms of its atmosphere and design?

Caroline: Well. Union Chapel was built for the human voice. The whole thing was designed so that everyone could see and hear the minister in the pulpit but also so the minister could see and hear everyone in the Chapel. This means that we have a space with great sightlines and really wonderful acoustics – all of which helps the audience feel really close to the artist on stage. It’s a proper listening environment and sometimes, with 900 people in there, sometimes I think you could still hear a pin drop.


IN THIS PHOTO: Frances Mayhew

It is unusual to see a music venue run by women – there are some but not too many. Do you think this will change soon enough? What does the music industry need to do?

Caroline: Well, we certainly hope so! The music industry has a long way to go to reflect more fully the diversity of its audiences and that will only make it stronger. Like every industry, they need to be open to new ways of doing things.

We are celebrating International Women’s Day today. Do you feel we are closer to gender equality or is there still a long way to go?

Frances: There’s a way to go – but it’s great to see so much momentum for change currently.

I guess you have seen some great gigs over time! Which ones stand in your minds?

Emma: For me, Low for Organ Reframed in 2017; they wrote a new piece for our organ which was epic. It’s such a powerful instrument and the way they used it blew me away.

Caroline: Mavis Staples! She brings such warmth to her performances. She has been here a few times and seems to really love the Chapel. In fact, she described it as the best place to sing in the world! She’s just released a live album of her 2018 gig which I have been playing on loop.

Frances: I’d have to say London Contemporary Voices – which was actually voted best Union Chapel gig of 2018, so I know I am in good company! Their gig celebrated female artists and composers to coincide with 100 years of votes for women. They also had some really special guests including Charlotte Church, Jesca Hoop; Maya Youssef, Deepa Nair Rasiya and KÁRYYN. It was such an uplifting evening.

If anyone else wanted to work for a music venue or get involved with coordination/management, what would you advise them?

Caroline: Get all the experience you can – a lot of skills are really transferable so, even if you start with other kinds of events or really small gigs, it super-relevant.

Can you reveal whether there are any future gigs or events we need to go and see?

Emma: Oh, goodness. I’m quite excited about Emmy the Great - who goes on-sale this morning (8th March).

Caroline: ...And if you haven’t seen Backyard Cinema’s Romeo + Juliett yet, DO! It’s just heartbreakingly romantic on the big screen in the Chapel and they are back in August.



Are there any developments or plans for Union Chapel for the rest of 2019 in terms of build and new features?

Frances: Well. The Sunday School Hall is the next big project and it’s so exciting. The Hall itself is a lovely space that will hold about 200 people so it’s got real potential for events and community activities. But, it’s currently barely holding together. It needs a new roof, new floors and heating so first we need to fundraise for it. We got a huge boost before Christmas with a successful Crowdfund London Campaign - but there’s still a long way to go.

A lot of venues in London have closed recently. Why do you think Union Chapel has survived and continues to grow?!

Caroline: The support of our community really helps and is very important to us.

Is it true the venue was threatened with demolition? How as that averted?

Frances: Yes. It was scheduled for demolition in 1981 but local residents campaigned and saved it. At that point, the congregation decided to find a way of opening it up to people beyond the regular services and slowly the idea of doing events here began to take off with the venue launching in 1991.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Guildhall Saxophone Ensemble (as part of Daylight Music)/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Hudson

Are there any new artists/musicians you recommend we check out?

Emma: A great place to come for that is Daylight Music (Saturday lunch time pay-what-you-can gigs here). They have some great performers. I’ve been really enjoying The Distant Voices Project recently, which brings together some of Scotland’s most acclaimed songwriters with people who have first-hand experience of the criminal justice system. The album is great and I’m really looking forward to seeing them here on 16th March.

Do you all get much time to relax away from music and your careers? How do you unwind?

Caroline: Go to gigs and contribute to a weekly show on Soho radio – all a bit of a busman’s holiday you might say!

Frances: I run and love to go to the theatre.

Emma: ...And I eat a bit too much cake!

Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Emma: Anna Calvi - Don’t Beat The Girl Out of My Boy


Caroline: Mavis Staples’ version of Slippery People live at Union Chapel

Frances: Émigré by Alela Diane, please


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