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What chance a grant in today's climate?

26 October 2012

Several of your recent columns have sounded gloomy about the prospect of raising money for building developments in churches. We have seen several churches around us achieve some excellent results, and we want to make our own changes. What are our chances?

WE HAVE had a great couple of decades for funds for charities and churches, but the past three years have brought big changes with an impact on church fund-raising potential.

Not many years ago, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) would contribute to creating community facilities in historic churches. But, with increasing demands on its funds, the HLF changed its criteria to target heritage projects in heritage buildings. So it became far harder for churches, whose primary activities tend not to be heritage, to gain significant grants.

Do note that the newly revised Heritage Lottery Grants for places of worship have extended the Repair Scheme to include modest facilities such as lavatories and serveries. The biggest all-singing and all-dancing projects would still, for the HLF, have to be heritage projects.

The recession and the change of government have resulted in the loss of much of the billions of pounds of grant aid that supported charities and churches, with the result that charities are competing aggressively for whatever is left.

So what is left? Many trusts and foundations have been perfectly happy to support a church when its case has fitted the trust's criteria, and has been as well-presented as that of other charities. But the recession has resulted in these foundations' losing annual income from dividends, and therefore they have far less money to give. The result is fewer grants, and more competition for them.

One of the few big funding sources that remains is Landfill Communities Grants. The last government made it possible for landfill operators to pay the tax due for their dumping operations into a charitable fund for environmental causes, historic churches, and community centres.

These sources are still making fair-sized grants to churches that meet the criteria - mainly, distance from a landfill operation. Unfortunately, these grants are not large enough to replace the other sources of funds which have been available to church developments, even when you are within a few miles of a landfill site.

The one remaining significant source of funds is the congregation and the parish served by the church. It's over to you.

This has led me, in the past couple of years, to emphasise that the preparation of a feasibility study for church development must have funding as one of the legs of its three-legged stool: the other two are historic significance, and architectural feasibility.

If a church has significant financial resources of its own, then fitting essential and even extensive developments can be determined by the combination of the Statement of Significance with the architect's response to the brief of the PCC. The latter will outline the actual needs for change.

But, as long as the church needs to raise money from outside sources, the situation cannot be seen in the same way as it has for the past two decades. At their annual conference, the Liberal Democrats pointed out that it could be 2020 before our national economy was restabilised. Until then, I expect that we have to mostly tighten our belts, and be very careful in the ways in which we plan our developments.

Questions to: maggiedurran@virginmedia.com

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