Hackney Church brand identity

OMSE has brought a fresh new feel to Hackney Church in London, which helps articulate its many offerings to the community. Words: Aimée McLaughlin

Founded in 1275, Hackney Church has been serving the people of east London for almost 750 years. Today, the ways in which it supports locals are as diverse as the local community itself – from operating one of London’s busiest knife bins to providing more than 100,000 meals last year alone.

The church building, however, had fallen into disrepair over the years and in 2018, rector Al Gordon and his team embarked on a £6.5 million restoration project. Led by John Pawson Architects and Thomas Ford & Partners, the redevelopment envisioned the church as a ‘cathedral of creativity’ fit for the 21st century.

Hackney-based studio OMSE was brought in to rethink the Hackney Church brand in tandem with the restoration. The brief was to create a new identity that could flex across the breadth of its activities – from sobering occasions to joyous celebrations.

The team started with a logo that drew inspiration from the building’s stained-glass windows. It then developed the rest of the identity from this core symbol, turning the window device into a hop to represent the church’s brewery, a set of stacked loaves for its bakery, and more.

Over the course of the project, the church grew rapidly — from five to 35 employees, and 150 to 500+ members. “They were growing so fast that the branding then had to evolve to keep pace with their communications needs,” says OMSE founder and director James Kape.

“When we started out, there were aspirations for a brewery, apiary, charity and café, but none of these plans were concrete. As time went on, these pipedreams rapidly became real, which meant we had to explore how the brand voice could adapt for the new sub-brands.”

OMSE created everything from a new wayfinding system for the restored church (working together with EBBA Architects and production agency Family) to an identity for its weekly event programmes, along with a website to tie all its work together in one place.

The studio also worked with an array of creative talent to bring the identity to life. Central Saint Martins graduate Thomas Hedger depicted figures from the church’s past; illustrators Joseph Melhuish and Jay Cover created different characters to reflect the local community; and Vicky Grout and Toby Thomas captured the people of east London on camera.

“We were keen to commission localish talent to help bring different aspects of the brand to life, from their point of view,” says Kape. “We felt each illustrator and photographer could bring their own style and approach to help make each programme feel more unique and appropriate to its audience.”

While it’s still early days, Kape points out that the church’s recent growth is testament to the vital role it continues to play in people’s lives. “What matters most is that they now have more reach to help the community through their weekly programmes, and through Lighthouse, their charity,” he says.

“In 2019, they served just over 5,000 meals to the homeless. But with three new locations, they’ve been able to serve 250,000 meals, which has made a vital difference to those in need during the pandemic.”

The project also serves as a reminder of the power of creative thinking, particularly when it’s applied in traditionally more conservative places. “It’s common to look at the competition within a sector, then design something which feels appropriate,” says Kape.

“But with everything looking the same, how does a brand become distinctive? How does a brand become unique and special? What makes them memorable? To cut through the noise, we needed to think differently. A church doesn’t have to look like other churches in order to have an impact. In the 21st century, it might well have more impact if it doesn’t.”


Category: Brand Identity; Entered by: OMSE

Design Studio: OMSE
Creative Director: James Kape
Account Manager: Holly Farndell
Designers: Ed Hatfield, Tom Schwaiger, Ananya Mohan
3D Designer: Mitchell Eaton
Motion Designer: Malone Chen
Web Developer: Denis Bouquet
Production Company: Family Ltd
Signage: Ebba Architects
Contributing Illustrators: Jay Cover, Thomas Hedger
Contributing 3D Illustrator: Joseph Melhuish
Photographer: Vicky Grout
Art Director/Photographer: Toby Thomas