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Help for Historic Places of Worship

Published: 22nd March 2010 17:23

What condition are England's listed churches and other historic faith buildings really in and what will most help the congregations whose task it is to maintain them? Most of the country's 14,500 listed places of worship are in good condition and are a huge asset to their communities, thanks almost entirely to the work of volunteers. Many are adapting to incorporate crèches, cafés and post offices alongside worship. But some are struggling simply to keep open. The cost of maintaining these beautiful buildings is an on-going challenge, not least because what makes them special within our landscape is also what makes them more costly to repair than less spectacular buildings.

A Remote rural churchA Remote rural church

English Heritage, as part of its Heritage at Risk programme, is carrying out the first national survey of Places of Worship at Risk. On 30th June it will announce the results of a sample survey that offers an insight into the condition of England's listed religious heritage to find out how many buildings are at serious risk of decay.

Most listed places of worship are Church of England (85%). Others are Catholic parish churches, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church and other Nonconformist chapels, Quaker meeting houses, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras as well as a number of buildings now used by faith groups but previously built as schools, cinemas or shops.

Research has involved looking at a representative 10% sample of listed places of worship of all kinds across the country. In addition, English Heritage is inviting congregations to take part in discussions to find out what really matters to them about their place of worship and what they really need to help them turn what some see as a burden into a building in which they can take pride and joy.

To widen its research and to improve its understanding of how it can best help congregations to help themselves, English Heritage invites anyone with an interest in their local historic church or other place of worship to tell them of their challenges and successes and answer a few simple questions on its website http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.21499

Based on the results of all this research, and in partnership with a wide range of faiths, denominations and heritage groups, English Heritage will publish a practical guide bringing basic information on looking after your building into a single leaflet for all faiths. Much valuable information already exists but the guide will be an easy first step to finding it, for example on the Church of England's http://www.churchcare.co.uk/ and via other partners' publications, websites and telephone help lines. Reflecting the main concerns of congregations, the guide will point people towards help with maintenance, fundraising, welcoming visitors, widening use, making changes, security and sustainability.

English Heritage hopes that this information will reach as many listed places of worship and interested individuals as possible and everyone who signs up on the website will get one.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Congregations up and down the country are shouldering the huge responsibility of maintaining our historic religious buildings for present and future generations. English Heritage's Places of Worship at Risk project will, for the first time, give us a snapshot of the national picture and by analysing this we hope to deliver viable local solutions. "We're bringing all the faiths and heritage organisations together not to impose what we think but to respond to what church wardens, ministers, property stewards, trustees, members of parochial church councils and others in congregations tell us they really want.

"Increasingly churches and other places of worship are being recognised for the role they play in the wider community as the home to and inspiration for a range of voluntary services. In helping to maintain historic churches, we are not only preserving beautiful buildings which have been the focus of community life and the repository of local memory for generations past, we are ensuring that they can continue to provide this wide public benefit for generations to come."

English Heritage has been providing grants to individual faith buildings (latterly in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund) since the 1970s. In 2008 it started offering funds to help dioceses, denominations and faith bodies employ staff that support congregations with locally-identified needs. It has also worked with pilot projects in London, Suffolk and Gloucester to explore how regular maintenance on challenging buildings can be made easier.

The new Heritage at Risk research on places of worship means that this hugely important part of the historic environment (45% of grade I buildings are places of worship) can be added to the wider view of the condition of England's heritage which the register provides. It already includes listed buildings, registered parks, gardens and battlefields, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks and conservation areas.

No new places of worship will be added to the July 2010 register but, after consultation with those who care for them, examples will be added where appropriate. The register helps everyone to galvanise action, direct limited resources to areas of need and focus attention on saving the best of the past for the future. Eventually it will make England the first country in the world to have a comprehensive picture of its heritage at risk and to understand and address the challenge that represents.
To ensure you receive a practical guide to looking after a listed place of worship, sign up at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.21499


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