Historic Churches 2018

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 25 TH ANNUAL EDITION 3 SEEKING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE Becky Clark ‘C RUMBLING CATHEDRALS’. ‘Church in crisis’. ‘Ageing congregations put future at risk’. – All of these headlines have appeared in UK media over the past year, and all of them have accompanied articles which sought to suggest that the very existence of the Church of England as we know it is at risk. All were overly dramatic and, in the way of headlines, only really there to get people to read the full story. Nevertheless, all contained a kernel of truth. The Church of England is the major player in English religious heritage, having within its ambit over 16,000 churches and innumerable vicarages, church halls, churchyards, burial grounds, and associated green spaces. Over 12,400 CofE churches are listed and 45 per cent of all England’s Grade I listed buildings are churches. Almost by accident the CofE has become the single largest manager of built heritage in the UK, and by and large it is doing its best to look after it. At a local level, parishes retain responsibility for the care of their buildings, but this situation is becoming rarer. In France the state takes responsibility and in several other European countries both funding and administration have been centralised. England however has always resisted this approach, and arguably the nation is the better for it. To take away local responsibility is to take away local engagement and ownership. No matter how well-meaning, a large piece of centralised organisational machinery can never hope to understand the needs and wants or the hopes and dreams of every local community. That challenge and privilege must stay locally entrenched. This being said, it is not enough to state this principle and then leave them to flounder. Deals with government (latterly via arm’s length bodies such as Historic England) have meant 40 years of continuous state support for the care of historic places of worship. Largely, this majored on the heritage significance of churches, but issues of community cohesion and social and economic input were also part of the deal. Churches, especially historic ones, were felt to be too valuable to be lost, and irreplaceable once gone. National money supported local care and ownership. It was a virtuous circle in which churches, when in good repair, could offer support of all kinds to the people of their community, in turn helping to build and develop the sorts of places that people wanted to live in. It wasn’t perfect and it didn’t help everyone, but for the most part it worked. Sadly, we are now in a position where such funding simply no longer exists. The ‘bonfire of the quangos’ in 2010 led to English Heritage making significant changes, eventually resulting in its split into two organisations, with heritage protection legislation and listing ending up with the new Historic England. As part of seeking to minimise duplication, the Repair Grants for Places of Worship scheme was transferred wholesale to the Heritage Lottery Fund in a move that some senior people at HLF have latterly come to see as a mistake. Core funding of capital repairs was never part of HLF’s brief, and moreover, it was giving up a state-accepted responsibility to a non- statutory body. We all had reason to rue the original decision when, after five years, HLF wrapped up what was by then called the Grants for Places of Worship scheme into its general funds, bringing to an end dedicated money for places of worship capital repair and restoration work. Churches will, from now on, be applying for HLF money using their standard criteria, competing with all other forms of heritage. It stands to the credit of the government that, in difficult times, it sought to help. The Listed Places of Worship Roof Repairs Fund was announced by George Osborne in 2014 and, over the coming two years, awarded £55 million to places of worship. Cathedrals, Catholic and CofE, also benefitted from the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund, worth £40 million. Both of these have had a huge impact, but among all the good news stories was the certainty that short-term pots of money were not enough to solve the underlying problem. Evershot, Dorset: parish churches form the focal point of countless villages and towns throughout the UK, treasured by both the wider community and their congregations. (Photo: Jonathan Taylor) Religious heritage is one of the pillars of European culture and identity. It is the largest ‘museum’ in Europe and covers every corner of the continent. Future for Religious Heritage, writing on the protection of religious heritage in Europe