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Drones deployed to protect ancient churches

Posted on: August 23, 2016 10:39 AM
A drone equipped with a video camera will be used to survey historic churches in Yorkshire
Photo Credit: Don McCullough / National Churches Trust
Related Categories: Church Building, England, History, Sheffield, York

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A remote controlled flying drone equipped with a video camera is to be used to identify maintenance requirements of historic churches in Yorkshire, England. The Church of England’s dioceses of Sheffield and York are to take part in a pilot programme organised by the National Churches Trust. The scheme will be funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund – a grant-making body distributing funds from the UK’s National Lottery.

The National Churches Trust (NCT) will use the £90,100 GBP to establish the Yorkshire Maintenance Project, which they say will “help keep churches and chapels in Yorkshire in good condition and to prevent the need for expensive repairs.”

The project will entail drone surveys of churches, training workshops to help volunteers maintain church buildings and a new Maintenance Booker website where churches of all denominations can organise gutter clearances and other urgent maintenance tasks.

It is not the first time that churches have found a use for drones. Last month, the authorities at Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand released dramatic footage showing the extent of the damage caused by the 2011 earthquake to the city’s historic cathedral; and the Church in Wales’ Diocese of Llandaff explained that drones were being used to map ancient burial grounds.

Yorkshire is a county that has a rich religious heritage. Almost 1,100 places of worship in the county are “listed” as being architecturally or historically important – including 346 churches which are classed at the highest level – Grade 1. “However, maintenance of these important historic buildings is often neglected, putting their future at risk,” the NCT said.

In addition to the NCT and the C of E dioceses of Sheffield and York, the Yorkshire Maintenance Project includes the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the archaeological department of the Museum of London, as well as Roman Catholic Methodist Churches in the county. As part of the pilot scheme, the project will evaluate extending the service to operate across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region over the next three years.

“The Yorkshire Maintenance Project will help ensure that Yorkshire’s churches and chapels will be well maintained, with the risk of serious damage to them minimised,” the NCT’s director of church support, Michael Murray, said. “Through training and resources, including a new website to make it easy for diligent but often over-stretched volunteers to book critical maintenance, churchwardens and other people responsible for looking after churches and chapels will be able to give their buildings the love and care they need.

“Regular maintenance is essential for churches. Something as simple as keeping drains and gutters clear so that water is taken away from the building efficiently is the most important thing a church can do to stop small problems developing into unnecessary crises.

“An overflowing gutter soon soaks the wall beneath, rots the roof timbers behind it and makes the whole building vulnerable. As well as keeping a church building in good repair, preventative maintenance saves money as it has been estimated that every £1 spent on keeping a church in good condition saves £30 in repair costs within five years.”

Dr Julie Banham, who has responsibility for supporting church buildings in the Diocese of Sheffield, described the drone surveys as “an excellent means of enabling parishes to access new technology and training to ensure our churches are in the best possible condition.”

She added: “In the past, so much additional cost and work has been caused by poor repairs or volunteers not knowing who to contact for help. Getting the basics right, knowing which materials and methods to use, when to seek advice and having a regular maintenance plan in place will be hugely beneficial.”

As part of the project, the archaeological department of the Museum of London will conduct surveys of between eight and 10 churches “to provide information and evidence for management and maintenance plans, [statutory] quinquennial inspections and immediate repair needs.”