‘Talking point’: the three hoardings outside the church. Photograph: St Mary’s

An enterprising church rector has borrowed an idea from a hit film to shine a spotlight on homelessness in Hackney.

Reverend Dilly Baker has installed three large hoardings on the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Stoke Newington, inspired by Oscar-winning drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The first reads ‘6167 homeless in Hackney’ – a figure that includes rough sleepers, sofa surfers and those living in temporary or emergency accommodation.

The number equates to one in 44 people in the borough.

Rev Baker said: “The billboard literally stops people in their tracks. It has become a talking point, a prompt for people to recall their own stories of poverty or homelessness.”

The second billboard reads ‘Shelter & food bank hosted here’, and the third provides a link to the church’s website, along with the message ‘Be informed. Get involved. Donate’.

Film fan: Rev Dilly Baker in front of the billboards. Photograph: St Mary’s

St Mary’s houses a night shelter during the winter months, as well as a weekly food bank and room for local charity Hackney Migrant Centre.

But Rev Baker says the venue “is not up to scratch”, and that funding is needed for a better kitchen and washroom facilities.

The church currently has just one shower for the 25 people using the winter shelter, and there is no private space for those using the Doctors of the World medical service.

St Mary’s also plans to launch a soup kitchen, a lunch club for the elderly and a money advice centre.

Fundraising efforts have already brought in over a million pounds, but the church needs a final £250,000 before it can lay the first brick, and Rev Baker is urging local businesses to donate £1,000 each.

She added: “Every day someone knocks on the rectory door asking for help because they can’t make ends meet. We live in an area of huge wealth but there’s real poverty here too.

“It’s a tragedy and a sad reflection on our society that in 2018 a rising number of people must resort to food banks.”

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was nominated for seven awards at the Oscars in March, with Frances McDormand picking up Best Actress and Sam Rockwell winning Best Supporting Actor.

The film centres on a grieving mother, played by McDormand, who uses three huge advertising hoardings to spark the local police into action over the unsolved murder of her daughter.

For more information on St Mary’s, or to donate to the church, please visit stmaryscentren16.org

Support us


The coronavirus outbreak has meant that the Hackney Citizen has been unable to print a monthly newspaper for the last three months.

The need for quality news and reliable reporting is crucial - however, this is an increasingly challenging time for local journalism.

Our main source of income, print advertising revenue, fell suddenly - and so we are asking you, the readers, for your help.A one-off donation from anyone who can afford it will help our small team get our newspaper back in print and keep the website and social media feeds running through this unprecedented crisis.

Find out how you can donate.

Thanks in advance for your support, and stay safe.