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British government unveils £1.8m pilot scheme to support listed places of worship

Posted on: April 4, 2018 11:29 AM
The “Cathedral of the Marshes” – the church of Holy Trinity, Blythburgh, in Suffolk – is a Grade I listed building which serves around 130 households on a site which has been used for Christian worship since the seventh century and is the burial site of Saxon kings. It is one of many which could benefit from a new partnership between the British government and the Church of England.
Photo Credit: Mel Etitis-commonswiki / Wikimedia

Expert advisors are being recruited to help religious communities in two areas of England use their historic buildings more efficiently. The advisors are part of a pilot scheme being run by the government’s culture ministry DDCMS and the dioceses of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich and Manchester. The experts will work to increase community engagement and vital heritage management skills and will work with listed buildings used by all faiths and denominations.

Listed status, in three grades, is given to buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Almost half of all Grade I listed buildings – the top grade – in England are Anglican churches. Listing places maintenance and upkeep obligations on owners; and restrictions on the way buildings can be used or changed.

In December, an independent report on the sustainability of English churches and cathedrals was published by Bernard Taylor for the government. It recommended greater community use of Church of England buildings to help congregations raise income to pay for their upkeep. The new two-year pilot will begin in the Autumn at a cost of £1.8 million. In addition to the expert advisors, the scheme will provide a £500,000 minor repairs fund for eligible listed places of worship in the pilot areas.

The advisors will include fabric support officers, who will “provide high quality advice and develop maintenance and repair plans” to “ensure that routine repairs can be addressed immediately and prevent the development of more costly problems,” the ministry said in a statement. In addition, community support advisors “will work with the custodians of listed places of worship to identify and strengthen relationships within their local area and develop greater community partnerships.”

While the scheme is open to all faiths and denominations; the new support staff will be based in the two diocesan offices.

“Church buildings have always been a crucial part of the community life of this nation and the majority of them provide one or more form of social outreach or community facilities,” the C of E’s lead bishop for cathedrals and church buildings, Bishop of Worcester Dr John Inge, said. “In working with the government on reviewing their long-term sustainability, it has been gratifying to hear many stories of churches that understand their Christian mission in terms of service to the community.

“These pilots will model a new type of partnership between the Church and the Government, investing in people and buildings side-by-side to ensure churches are able to continue to fulfil this function, whilst growing new opportunities to serve the people of England.”

The government’s heritage minister, Michael Ellis MP, said: “Britain has an incredible array of historic buildings important to all faiths which tell the story of our shared history and our communities. However the costs of caring for and protecting many listed places of worship can be prohibitive and lead many to fall into disrepair. The innovative pilots I am announcing today will help unlock the community potential of these buildings and provide practical guidance so they can be preserved for future generations.”