The Yorkshire Maintenance Project

Eddie Tulasiewicz


  Damp and dark green biological growth on a masonry parapet
  Typical signs of damp caused by an overflowing parapet gutter

Clearing gutters and fixing leaking downpipes is the kind of basic, routine work we carry out on our own homes to keep them in good condition and to avoid being saddled with big repair bills when the roof starts to leak. But sometimes dealing with regular maintenance is the one job that churches and chapels, all too often with no paid building staff, find it difficult to get around to.

That’s why the National Churches Trust (NCT), with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, has launched the Yorkshire Maintenance Project, a new scheme to help keep churches and chapels in Yorkshire in good condition and avoid expensive repairs.

The project will help to sustain the rich religious built heritage of Yorkshire, where there are 1,095 listed places of worship including 346 Grade I churches, buildings of the highest heritage significance. As maintenance of these important historic buildings is often neglected, their future could be at risk.

The key aims of the Yorkshire Maintenance Project are:

  • to increase the number of Yorkshire churches that regularly undertake gutter maintenance
  • to promote awareness of the benefits of preventive maintenance through training
  • to improve knowledge of the conditions of churches at high/ roof level
  • to improve the condition of historic buildings through regular maintenance care and inspections.


Back in 2011 the NCT conducted a survey to better understand the issues affecting the sustainability of the UK’s church buildings. The survey gathered responses from more than 7,000 church representatives.

The trust’s national survey report stated that ‘for those buildings in need of them, the average cost of urgent repairs is just over £80,000, including VAT’. Assuming relative uniformity given the sample size, there could be a total urgent repair bill for the UK’s Christian places of worship of around £1 billion, including VAT.

Six years later, there is still a significant backlog of outstanding repairs. Efforts must be made to avoid further damage and degradation of church fabric through more effective preventive maintenance practice so that funding for repairs can reduce the backlog rather than just trying to keep up with ever-increasing need.

The trust’s 2011 survey confirmed a positive relationship between formal maintenance and general building condition. When looking at all UK church buildings, it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of those which are in good condition carry out regular maintenance, 13 per cent of them in accordance with a formal maintenance plan agreed with a qualified professional. Conversely, for those in poor or very poor condition, barely more than half carry out regular maintenance.


The Yorkshire Maintenance Project has three key parts – drone surveys, church maintenance training and the MaintenanceBooker web-based maintenance service – which are described in more detail below.

Drone surveys
Every five years, churches are inspected internally and externally by a qualified architect or surveyor as part of its quinquennial inspection. The upper parts of the building are studied from the tower, if the church has one and it is accessible, or from the ground using a pair of binoculars. It is not possible, however, to see certain parts of the building from these two vantage points or to see them in enough detail to assess the nature and scale of any necessary remedial action.

  A man in a high-vis jacket uses a remote control device to direct a drone while two other people look at the screen relaying the camera footage
  Reverend Eleanor Robertshaw helps to direct a drone survey at St Laurence Priory, Snaith, East Yorkshire

In contrast, one of the great advantages of drone surveys, according to Dr Rauxloh of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), is that they allow ‘directed shots of known areas of building weakness’, especially when they are conducted in association with those who know the building best. Drone surveys can provide information and evidence for management and maintenance plans, quinquennial inspections and immediate repair needs.

Dr Rauxloh and his team looked at nine churches in the Sheffield diocese over the course of three weeks. The purpose of the work was to determine how drone technology can help the early detection of defects and ongoing monitoring of these precious buildings by providing detailed information which is unattainable from the ground. This information can be used to create dimensionally accurate 3-D models and other digital products.

The core output was a report in which the products derived from the drone flight can be studied to see how they can benefit the inspection and monitoring process. This assessment was carried out in association with architects, the NCT, diocesan representatives and incumbents. The project disks containing images captured by the drones were also given to each church to share with their architects.

Church maintenance training
Maintenance training is delivered by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) to church wardens and other volunteers responsible for looking after church buildings. Janet Edmond, project manager of the Yorkshire Maintenance Project, has been leading the training, which has brought new awareness of the importance of maintenance to the volunteers who look after historic church buildings. She and her team ran a series of maintenance training sessions in partnership with SPAB in Doncaster, Sheffield, York and Dewsbury during November 2016 with follow-up training sessions in March 2017. Videos of the training can be seen on Vimeo.

The main aims of the training sessions were to raise awareness of the Yorkshire Maintenance Project and the new MaintenanceBooker website service and associated grant funding, to highlight the importance of building maintenance and to give basic training to church wardens and church volunteers on how to manage maintenance issues in their places of worship.

Over the two training sessions delegates learned how to conduct a baseline condition survey and create a maintenance plan for their places of worship as well as how to recognise maintenance problems at an early stage. They were also invited to consider the benefits of forming a maintenance co-operative, a group of church wardens and church maintenance volunteers who regularly meet or communicate with and support each other to look after their buildings.

The third part of the Yorkshire Maintenance Project is MaintenanceBooker, a web-based service that allows the people tasked with looking after churches to quickly identify and secure an appointment for maintenance services through a qualified craftsperson or contractor. The service is available to all churches across Yorkshire, listed and unlisted.

  Hand-held drone controller with tablet attached
  A drone-mounted camera relays images of a church spire

The website, which has been launched as a partnership with 2buy2 (a national buying group for UK businesses, charities, schools and churches), provides an online ‘one-stop shop’ where churches and chapels can book accredited contractors for services including gutter clearance, tree maintenance and inspection of lightning protection systems.

All contractors registered with MaintenanceBooker will provide a fully professional and value-for-money service. The selection criteria for contractors include experience working with churches and historic buildings, appropriate qualifications, references from completed works and having an adequate level of insurance.

As well as churches and chapels, organisations tasked with looking after non-ecclesiastical historic buildings can also make use of MaintenanceBooker.

Cost can be a major barrier for churches seeking to tackle maintenance tasks but more help is available through the Preventative Maintenance MicroGrant programme. The micro-grants, made available by The Pilgrim Trust, cover 50 per cent of a church’s gutter clearance service if booked through MaintenanceBooker. If a church is listed it may also be eligible for an award from the National Churches Trust’s Maintenance Grant Programme.

Although currently operating only in Yorkshire and Humber, there are already plans to make MaintenanceBooker services available in other parts of England and Wales.

The hope is that the website will help many overburdened church wardens, volunteers and clergy throughout the country to identify and engage professional help to maintain their buildings.


According to Michael Murray, director of church support at the NCT, the Yorkshire Maintenance Project will help to ensure that Yorkshire’s churches and chapels are well maintained, minimising the risk of serious damage to them. He hopes that the project will result in 274 churches in the dioceses of Sheffield, York and West Yorkshire joining the scheme.

‘Regular maintenance is essential for churches’ he said. ‘An overflowing gutter soon soaks the wall beneath, rots the roof timbers behind it and makes the whole building vulnerable’. He also pointed out that, as well as keeping a church building in good repair, preventive maintenance saves money. It has been estimated that every £1 spent on keeping a church in good condition saves £30 in repair costs within five years.

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.


Further Information

The Yorkshire Maintenance Project