What are our chances of getting help to adapt our church for added uses? There is a lot of doom and gloom about available funds.
DESPITE being an optimist, I have increasingly recognised the pressure we are all going to be under when looking for outside funding for our projects. And, however important we believe our project to be — and yours probably fills the horizon of many members of the congregation — there is going to be a great deal less money around, and a great deal more pressure on the writing of funding bids.
Several agencies that have helped churches (and, often, the big church projects have benefited most) are disappearing in the Government’s spending changes. These changes have sometimes proved less than feared, but they are enough to be scary. The Churches Conservation Trust is to lose 20 per cent of its grant, and that represents a huge loss to the sector. Regional development agencies that have helped church-based tourism projects and other initiatives are to disappear. Development agencies are to go, such as West Northamptonshire Development Agency, and it, too, has helped community projects. You will have your own examples in your area.
On the other hand, because stocks and shares are beginning to recover their pre-recession values, the grant-making foundations may also slowly recover. Every church I know seems to have spotted, or been advised of, the Big Lottery’s Reaching Communities grants for buildings, but the small print is only gradually being uncovered (full disclosure at the beginning of December: visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/prog_reaching_communities ). One important criterion suggests that deprived communities, rural and urban, will be targeted. In addition, the fund will highlight the repairing and upgrading of buildings, and will be less likely to support new buildings.
I would suggest, first, that unless you have most of the money in place for your large church projects, you should rethink, and develop a phased approach to works and to raising the related funds: for example, lavatories this year, access next year, and so on. You will have a number of smaller, more achievable projects.
Then look at the total sum you are targeting. So many churches are now realising that a financially modest scheme can provide them with all that they need (although less, perhaps, than they dreamed of), and that some projects need to consider a new look at their feasibility. The financial feasibility should be informing the architectural feasibility.
There was a poor fund-raising climate such as this in the late 1980s and early 1990s — that shows how long I have been doing this — and there has been a rise in funding consistently since that time. This slump, too, will pass. If you are at the beginning of the project, spending more time on the detailed preparation that you will need to have in place to succeed in the competition for funding may take you into a period when funds are climbing again.
It is not time to give up, but, as the chief executive of the Churches Conservation Trust, Crispin Truman, said to me, it is probably time for all of us in the church sector to work together as much as possible for the good of us all.