WALKERS and church crawlers will know the experience of
discovering an ancient, beautiful church in some remote place - of
pushing open the door, and wondering at the history and
tranquillity of such a special building.
The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) enables many such moments
of discovery: there are now 345 churches in its care in England.
Established by the Church of England Pastoral Measure of 1969, it
conserves the ancient church buildings of the English landscape
that would otherwise fall into ruin through demographic change. It
restores them, and, where relevant, makes them once again into
Today, the General Synod will be voting on the Church
Commissioners' proposal to continue their contribution to the CCT's
funding. They give £1.34 million a year. The Department of Culture,
Media and Sport also provides funding. The CCT "leverages" this
funding to raise individual and charitable giving; and specific
projects also receive HLF grants.
The TV presenter, gastronome, and writer Loyd Grossman has been
chairman of the trust since 2007. He balances this position with
several other high-profile executive positions in heritage and the
arts, including chairmanship of the Heritage Alliance, and the
National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies
(NADFAS). He is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
Growing up in New England, he says, led to a passion for
churches: "The classic New England village or small town has a
village green . . . the white meeting house with a big spire. And,
of course, when I moved to England in 1974, I immediately realised
just how special and how important English parish churches
TO MR GROSSMAN, the parish church is the essence of Englishness,
"and the essence of defining why this country is like it is, and
not like every other place. . . So the parish church has to be
What draws people to these special churches? "Aside from
anyone's own interest in faith or spirituality - anyone who is
remotely interested in history, in art, in the sense of what makes
one place different from another, in why this country is the way it
is, and why the places we live are like they are.. . . All those
things are to be discovered in parish churches."
There are also, Mr Grossman says, social reasons for protecting
and transforming churches. Communal spaces are scarce; many
villages have lost their pub or their shop. But the parish church
remains. "And almost inevitably, it's the most beautiful, certainly
the most inspiring, building in the neighbourhood. So let's use it.
. . When we're trying to rediscover, rekindle a sense of belonging
. . . the parish church is a great place to start."
Yet these buildings pass into the care of the Trust because
their congregations have dwindled away, or are tiny. He is
pragmatic on this point: "Although our churches are not used for
regular parish worship, they're host to thousands of events. Our
beautiful parish church in the centre of Sudbury, in Suffolk, is so
lively because of concerts and lectures and art exhibitions, and it
feels like one of the centres of what's happening in that very
beautiful town. You know, our churches are loved and used, and
that's the important thing. Whether they have a defined
congregation or not almost doesn't matter."
THE CCT's projects range from smaller-scale restorations of
stained glass to long-term projects, such as the transformation of
St Mary on the Quay, in Ipswich. "Here you have this big medieval
church," he says, "in a part of town that has been ruined by the
planners of past years; so it's kind of marooned."
To create a future for a huge, crumbling medieval church in an
unpopular part of town, the CCT has entered into partnership with
the mental-health charity Mind to restore the church, transforming
it into a drop-in and well-being centre. Charity, community, and
church all benefit, Mr Grossman says, and the project will have a
All Souls', Bolton, was built between 1878 and 1881 by local
mill owners for their workers. The huge Grade II* listed building -
"a really big ship of a Victorian church", Mr Grossman says - has
been closed for 23 years, vandalised, and is rarely visited. The
cotton industry's decline meant that the congregation ebbed away;
demographics shifted completely, and the present community is now
largely South Asian.
In-depth consultation revealed a need for a building that would
bring the community together. With £3.3 million of funding from the
Heritage Lottery Fund, an imaginative plan involving the
construction of two "pod" structures, creating buildings within the
church building, will provide a new centre for youth activities,
training, health and welfare services, for people of all faiths and
The "pods" are multi-functional and yet preserve the fabric of
the church. "The most wonderful thing is to see the way in which
that community has come to love that church, and has adopted it,"
Mr Grossman says.
As with St Mary's, he says that it is essential that the project
is a long-term solution. "Because what we never want to do is to do
some very glossy conservation job, and then, five years from now,
be saying 'What do we do with it? No one's using it.'"
THE CCT also undertakes preventative projects. If a church is at
risk of falling out of regular use, the trust works with parishes
and dioceses to avoid reaching crisis point. One such example is
All Saints', Benington, in Lincolnshire. "Rather than have the
church come into our care, we helped them to set up a charitable
trust which was then able to raise up to £2 million to keep the
church in local management," Mr Grossman says.
In April, the CCT acquired its 345th church, in Ayston, Rutland.
"It was phenomenal to go into that church for the first time - kind
of like unwrapping a Christmas present," he says, animatedly.
"Outside, it looks fabulous - a largely medieval church, which, I
think, has 12th-, certainly 13th-century origins, and it's just
magnificent inside: beautiful, beautiful late-medieval stained
"And suddenly," he says, his eyes shining, "it's just a
revelation. Every time a new church comes intoour care, there's
this thrill and excitement about what the possibilities are, and
what there is to discover."
Too diplomatic to name a favourite, he enthuses about the
diversity of churches in England. "You know, you very rarely walk
into a parish church and think 'Oh, I've seen this before.' . . .
It's that intensely local and individual feel that parish churches
have, which, I think, makes them so emotionally effective. Because
they're all different.
"Anyone can go into any of our churches, and be overwhelmed by
the beauty and the history; but they can also get tremendous
inspirational value, because the parish church was always about
'What can we aspire to, is this the best we can do?' And to make
that available to everyone, in a time when inspiration is in
relatively short supply, I think is a huge privilege for us."
All churches in the care of the CCT remain consecrated. "It's a
great thing," Mr Grossman says, "because it prevents them from
falling into inappropriate use, and because a consecrated building
hasa different feel from a building that's been deconsecrated. That
spiritual, inspirational dimension of the church is what makes it
not just another heritage building."
St Michael and All Angels, Princetown
ST MICHAEL and All Angels, Princetown, on Dartmoor, is the only
church in England to have been built by prisoners of war. Sailors
captured during wars with France and the United States in the early
19th century were held in Dartmoor prison, and built the church
during their incarceration.
In 1904, the National Society United States Daughters of 1812
funded a stained-glass window in the east chancel to commemorate
the prisoners. Over the past year, the CCT has worked with
volunteers to conserve the window. The harsh Dartmoor weather had
affected the delicate painted detail of the stained glass, and
water ingresses had caused the internal bars of the window to bow
The CCT's first entirely externally funded project, it has
supported a conservation internship and educational workshops with
Princetown Primary School. New visitor information and community
and volunteer support has helped to put St Michael's on the
Dartmoor tourist trail.
All Saints', Benington
IN 2003, the 800-year-old All Saints' closed. A declining
population, reduced church attendance, and a mounting repair bill
beyond the means of remaining churchgoers put the church on the
path to redundancy.
The CCT worked with the community to bring together the local
authorities, landowners, and the diocese to create a community
trust and raise the £1.9 million needed to repair and reopen the
church for community use, including occasional parish worship.
The church building, renamed The Beonna at All Saints', will
become a hub for community activities, and education and learning,
and will restore it as a centre of village life. It willalso
provide much-needed services, such as a pick-upand drop-off point
for postal items, and will sell basic groceries.
The project has saved the church from permanent closure, but it
has also given it a sustainable future, reducing dependency on the
Commissioners' funds in the long term.
All Souls', Bolton
ALL SOULS', a Grade II* listed building, was a target
for graffiti, vandalism, and theft after its closure in the 1980s.
Largely unvisited, empty for 25 years, and situated in a
neighbourhood that had changed culturally from when it was first
built, it held little relevance for people in the area. An
independent charity was created, All Souls', Bolton, and, with the
help of the CCT, it secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund,
English Heritage, Bolton Council, and a number of trusts and
It is now set to become a modern, multi-functional
space for the people of Bolton, of all faiths and none. The project
will create a new place to meet, learn, and share resources,
offering health and welfare services, as well as a training and
performance space. All Souls' will also host a multimedia
exhibition that tells the stories of Boltonians through history to
the present day. It opens in the autumn.
St Mary the Virgin, Ayston
ST MARY THE VIRGIN, in the picturesque hamlet of
Ayston, came into the care of the CCT in April. The site has been
in ecclesiastical use since the 12th century.
The main body of the church is 13th-century, with
additions in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the tower and
clerestory were built, the chancel was rebuilt, and the south porch
was added. There are pieces of early-15th-century stained glass in
the windows of the south aisle, and there are also visible
of medieval wall-paintings in the church.
This year, the CCT will spend about £436,000 on
repairs to roofing and masonry, improved below-ground drainage,
wall-painting restoration, window conservation, and many other
areas that need attention. The charity is developing a volunteer
team to care for the church, and to promote St Mary's to visitors
as one of a cluster of churches in the area.
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