Immediate risks to a number of English cathedrals have been “significantly reduced” by a £40 million conservation and repair scheme established as part of commemorations of the Centenary of World War I, a report published today says. The First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund was launched by the British government in 2014. It invited applications from Catholic and Church of England cathedrals to address urgent repair works, with a priority given to making buildings weatherproof, safe and open to the public as well as ensuring they would be in a safe condition to host acts of remembrance for the centenary of the First World War armistice in 2018.
In a statement published today to coincide with the publication of a report evaluating the scheme, the C of E said that England’s cathedrals contribute more than £220 million to the economy each year, and attract more than 11 million visitors. “Often complex and historic buildings, each has the responsibility for raising the funds required for upkeep,” the C of E said. “However, with no regular Government funding, each cathedral faces an ongoing challenge to maintain their fabric while ensuring comfort, safety and accessibility for all.”
Over the past four years, a total of 146 grants were awarded to 57 cathedrals. The average award was £274,000; while 12 cathedrals received grants of more than £1 million each.
The scheme has now come to and end, and today’s independent report shows a significant reduction of problems requiring immediate repair as a result of the investment but warned that recipients all had outstanding repairs in areas not covered by the scheme.
Around one third of projects funded by the scheme were roof repairs. Other projects supported repairs to external masonry, guttering, heating, sound system, electrical and window refurbishment.
The Fund was administered by the Church of England’s Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division on behalf of the Government’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport ministry. The grants were awarded by an independent panel chaired by Sir Paul Ruddock, who was appointed by the Government minister.
“The report concluded that the fund had been successful in achieving its aims and met a funding need that could not be met elsewhere, adding that areas of cathedrals covered by grant-aided projects had been very largely changed from needing urgent repair to needing routine maintenance only,” the C of E said.
“Cathedrals are at the forefront of the nation’s acts of remembrance each year, and in 2018 will perform their civic and community duty with added significance, as we mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, the C of E’s lead bishop for churches and cathedrals said. “This fund has been an imaginative and welcome resource to ensure our cathedrals are fit for this commemoration, as well as underpinning the vital contributions they make to their communities.
“With visitor and congregation numbers rising, and community outreach in abundance, it is vital that we do not stop here, and continue our commitment as a nation to protecting England’s cathedrals for generations to come.
“We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the Government around future funding collaborations.”
The Chair of the Patrimony Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Archbishop George Stack, said: “The grant funding received through this programme has enabled a number of Catholic cathedrals to carry out major works of repair which would otherwise have been wholly unaffordable. Many Catholic cathedrals in England are located in deprived inner-city areas and have very limited funds.
“This grant scheme has allowed a considerable backlog of repairs to be addressed. Leaking roofs have been repaired, decaying stonework rectified, improvements to drainage has stopped damp penetrating walls and causing internal damage, and improvements to heating and lighting systems have made cathedrals warm and welcoming to all.
“These highly significant sacred buildings have been able to play their part in the commemorations for the First World War and we are enormously grateful to the government for this vital funding which brings renewed hope to many.”
The Conservative MP for Meriden, Dame Caroline Spelman, acts as a link between Parliament and the Church Commissioners. Commenting on the report, she said: “The value of cathedrals has been demonstrated time and again. One in four of us will have visited a cathedral in the past 12 months, and with an estimated contribution to the economy of around £220 million a year, the First World War Centenary Repairs Fund investment in cathedrals has made very good sense.
“I will be working with colleagues to explore ways that a shared approach to cathedral repair work can continue, ensuring cathedrals are fit to continue their important contribution to society.”
The Church of England cathedrals which benefited from the scheme include Southwark Cathedral in South London, which received grants totalling £887,000 for high-level roof and masonry repairs and the installation of a number of new corbels – brackets similar to gargoyles; Coventry Cathedral in the Midlands, which received £1.26 million for work which included the stabilisation and protection of the ruins of its medieval cathedral, which was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid on the City, as well as significant repairs to the Chapel of Unity in the cathedral’s modern replacement building.
Lichfield cathedral received grants of just under £1.5 million for emergency rewiring and lighting improvements, as well as repairs to its unique two-storey Chapter House, which dates from 1195, and houses a historic library collection which includes the 8th century Chad Gospels.
Amongst the Catholic cathedrals to receive funding, Plymouth Cathedral in Devon received grants totalling just over £1.18 million to repair windows damaged by severe coastal weather, as well as the replacement of its heating system.