PCCs with historic churches may have their hands held

10 December 2008

by Bill Bowder

Helping hand: Dr Simon Thirley, chief executive of English Heritage, at Lichfield Cathedral DAVID JONES/PA

Helping hand: Dr Simon Thirley, chief executive of English Heritage, at Lichfield Cathedral DAVID JONES/PA

CONGREGATIONS are to be offered government help to manage ancient churches at a cost, to be matched, of £1.5 million. English Heritage has launched a scheme to pay for half the costs of 30 support officers to “hold their hands”.

Three dioceses that have been negotiating with English Heritage are expected to announce to-day that they have signed up to the scheme.

The Culture Minister, Andy Burnham, is due to urge Churches and other religious bodies to employ support officers to realise their buildings’ potential when he speaks at the launch of the English Heritage campaign at St Clement’s, Ordsall, in Salford, today.

Diana Evans, English Heritage’s head of places-of-worship policy, said last week that in its “Inspire” campaign, it had questioned reli­gious groups about the help they needed. “We found that what parishes wanted most was a human being who would hold their hand and help them through the pro­cesses needed to repair, restore, and make changes to their listed places of worship.”

The idea of support officers was put forward two years ago, but only half the number were initially pro­posed. The campaign asked the Government for £1.5 million of new money to provide for the experts, who would be interviewed by a joint panel of the religious body con­cerned and English Heritage. They would be full-time, and paid between £27,000 and £30,000. Those working for the Church of England would be on the diocesan staff and answerable to the diocesan secretary.

As well as help with the necessary planning for large repairs, they would help PCCs (and others) through administrative, technical, and fund-raising issues related to tasks such as putting in heating, lavatories, and kitchens into listed buildings, as well as making buildings sustainable, she said.

To make the scheme more attractive, English Heritage was willing to pay 75 per cent of the cost of each support officer for the first year, 50 per cent for the second year, and 25 per cent in the final year for which funds were available. After that, it hoped that dio­ceses and others would take over the full responsibility for the officers’ pay.

ONE GROUP, the Churches Trust for Cumbria, has arranged a joint funding scheme to start in April. Under it, the Trust and Carlisle diocese will pay half the cost of employing a support officer, while English Heritage pays the other half, Jon Sear, the Trust’s co-founder said last week.

Mr Hatton, a chartered engineer, used to work on providing pumps for nuclear power stations across Europe, had tested the scheme in a pilot project from Manchester diocese. After four years, he has found work with 20 churches listed by English Heritage and needed  for mission and worship, and has concentrated on ten of them.

He has already helped to rescue St Stephen and All Martyrs, Oldham, from semi-dereliction. After three years work, including two repair projects, the congregation, who were worshipping in a school, moved back last year.

The church still needs a heating system, kitchen, and lavatory to make it fit for the 21st century, even though the roof is not watertight, he says. But he helped give the congregation confidence to realise its vision. “It’s not about grants at the end of the day. It’s the actual administration and management of a project that is lacking.”

During the work, he became “almost a member of the clergy staff for that parish, although I am a lay person”, he says. He will now stay with them while they introduce the other changes needed.

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