Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
I HAVE just received a booklet, Inspired!, from English Heritageand it asks me to send a postcard to the Chancellor. I am sceptical. Isn't thijust another flurry of activity that gets us nowhere with our village churcand its challenges?
I have sent my postcard. It took very little effort, just the stamp. Why dit? I had several reasons.
The Inspired! strategy is relatively modest in the context of the bipicture. It is a request to central government for 26 million over three yearto focus on proactive initiatives helping listed places of worship, most owhich are Anglican churches. It's a big drop in the ocean of the 185 milliothat is needed each year to get our churches up to scratch on repairs.
The targeted activities include maintenance support, small grants, supporofficers helping individual churches, a small grants scheme, and support foagencies caring for priceless but redundant churches. All are steps in a goodirection.
A key reason why churches get relatively little of the vast sums spent eacyear on heritage buildings of all kinds (we manage 45 per cent of all Grade-buildings, but don't get anything like that proportion of total heritage-granfunding) is because we don't make a noise.
Channel 4 has in the past year or so run series on cathedrals and parischurches which have enabled the public to appreciate what they have in theineighbourhoods - and long may this continue. But until the level of need anpotential loss to the general public produces lobbying and questions iParliament, churches will remain poor cousins and losers.
So everything that can be done by church members and the general public ttell government to improve its contribution to heritage churches should be don
Am I getting political? Maybe. I wouldn't want our parish churches to becomthe property of the state, as local ownership is so important to them. But thameans that we will in most cases need to ask for outside help for thchallenges that are created partly by the heritage quality of the buildings. Iwe met in low-grade community halls, no one would mind if they simpldisappeared. But our buildings carry tradition and culture, history anarchitecture, and the story of our society through more than 1500 years: thematter to the country as a whole.
I think it is impossible to make a difference in tackling the overalbuilding challenge without trying to influence government, both the Chancelloand the Department for Culture. If enough of us make a fuss, and we are clearlall voters, the Government will become more interested.
I hear of members of the public who complain when churches close; they wanto have them there in case they need them. It is simplistic and seeminglself-centred interest, but we can engage with that interest to get communitieand parishioners to engage with us in requesting the funding that will make difference. Put up the Inspired! poster in your church.
In the last Budget, the Chancellor changed the VAT grant scheme to includthe costs of fees on repair projects: lobbying worked. So let's get our foot ithe door with Inspired!, and, when it is achieved, let's decide what we want twork for nex