In some areas of the country small bands of dedicated volunteers are struggling against all odds to maintain their buildings and cope with growing repair bills, while in others successful churches with growing congregations urgently need to adapt and expand to accommodate new patterns of worship which demand more flexible spaces and modern facilities.Without forward thinking, both trends threaten the survival of our historic church buildings as we know them.
Often these buildings provide the only remaining physical and spiritual focus for rural communities - a reassuring and beautiful presence on the skyline and a solid and timeless reminder of our shared history. In urban areas, redevelopment and shifting populations may mean that they are the only remaining physical link to the origins of that part of town.Wherever they are, and whatever denomination or faith built them, they are loved and cherished by believers and non-believers alike.
The problem we urgently need to address is how to keep our places of worship in a good condition and accessible for everyone to use and enjoy. It is time to stop talking and start acting.We must start to work together now to safeguard these most precious parts of our national heritage for future generations.
What is English Heritage going to do about it?
The Inspired! campaign was launched in May 2006, with the aim of making a case to Government for more support for those who manage and maintain historic places of worship. Five solutions were put forward, which English Heritage, Government and the denominations and faiths could collectively pursue in order to stem the rising costs of repairs and ensure a sustainable future for the buildings.
Solution 1: Re-write out-dated list descriptions so that congregations can better understand the heritage value of their buildings and plan acceptable changes to make them ‘fit for purpose’ for the 21st century.
Solution 2: Help congregations to help themselves by appointing advisers who can offer support and practical assistance in making the most of buildings.
Solution 3: Fund a maintenance scheme to enable congregations to get their basic maintenance done efficiently and economically.
Solution 4: Create a simple light touch grant scheme for small repair projects which are currently ineligible for EH/HLF grant.
Solution 5: Safeguard the Churches Conservation Trust and other trusts which look after historic places of worship after they have gone out of use, by increasing the funding available to them.
The campaign was publicly supported by the major denominations with listed buildings and by partners in the heritage sector. By the end of 2006 over 3,000 of the campaign postcards had been sent in by members of the public to show their support. There was also tremendous interest in Parliament, with short debates in both Houses, a well-attended reception following the launch and an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall in summer 2007.
The Future of Inspired!
Following last autumn’s Government spending review which set our funding until March 2011, English Heritage Commissioners agreed that extra resources should be put into work with places of worship in order to implement some of the Inspired! solutions. While the funding specifically requested in the campaign could not be provided in full, the proposed budget will allow the highest priority elements of the campaign to be delivered. We are happily in a position to be able to budget for this additional resource, without reducing the annual repair grants allocation.
The priorities on which we will focus are:
1. Capacity-building in the form of support officers who can advise congregations on the care of their buildings (Solution 2)
2. Maintenance schemes to make the upkeep of their buildings easier for congregations to arrange and more cost-effective (Solution 3)
The response of a wide range of organisations and individuals concerned with the future of historic places of worship, in formal and informal consultations, has helped us to prioritise these two solutions and we are grateful for their contribution to the debate.
The two solutions together provide the best way of ensuring long-term sustainability for historic places of worship.
It is widely acknowledged that Support Officers are invaluable as a way of helping congregations to access not just funding but also a wide range of skills to enable better understanding of their buildings and better management. Support Officers can also help English Heritage to make best use of its grants by directing them to the places where they are most needed. Such posts are likely to be found most useful in dioceses or other denominational bodies, but we will consider applications from any organisation with a role in using, managing or conserving numbers of listed places of worship.
The work of each individual Support Officer will be tailored to local needs, but in general they will:
• Identify buildings most in need of support
• Create a management strategy for historic places of worship
• Provide advice to individual congregations
English Heritage can offer 50% funding for partner organisations to employ Support Officers on 3-year contracts. Expressions of interest should be made either to the Places of Worship Policy Team or to the relevant English Heritage Regional Office.
The other key to ensuring the long-term future of historic places of worship is regular maintenance. Unfortunately this essential work is sometimes neglected or forgotten, leading to problems with buildings that require expensive repair. English Heritage would like to see a number of local or regional maintenance schemes set up to provide a basic service to individual congregations.
Maintenance schemes relieve congregations of the burden of arranging gutter clearance and other minor works and if properly organised will minimise the cost to each congregation. English Heritage is prepared to help third parties to get such schemes up-and-running, to the point where they are self-supporting. Further work to evaluate the pilots and formulate a model scheme will be done this year, in the hope of getting new schemes started, with partner organisations, in 2010-11.
The pilot maintenance schemes which English Heritage has funded over the last few years have provided useful experience and you can find out more about two of them by using the following links:
Gloucester diocese scheme
London diocese scheme
Meanwhile we are contributing to the annual costs of the Faith in Maintenance training programme, run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. To find out more about Faith in Maintenance, go to www.spabfim.org.uk.
For more information:
Places of Worship Policy Team
1 Waterhouse Square
London EC1N 2ST
020 7973 3267