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How sensible are your plans?

12 September 2014

We are adapting our church facilities for better use for community activities. It is not a cheap process, as our church is Grade I. The result of our applications to charitable trusts is some small grants, but at the present rate we are not going to achieve our target. Is there something we are missing?

IN ONE way, being a Grade I building makes your work more difficult when making changes, but, in others, it becomes a saving grace.

The adaptations required in a high-quality building are almost always more expensive, even when modest in their extent. Busy churches may need greater change, and an incremental increase in costs. Grade I churches, however, are special, and a cheap intervention would soon become tacky and nasty.

The best way to keep costs down when making such changes is to limit their extent rather than the quality: this is more likely to enable you to raise the funds, and for the resultant works to be appropriate to the building. Only extremely busy buildings need more than one (disabled-accessible) lavatory and servery. These can often be achieved for more modest sums which may be more attractive to grant-makers, who would rather fund two modest projects than one ambitious one.

There are several ways of moving forward when the grants are only trickling in, and you want them to flood. Check that you have covered every potential source. Look at Landfill Community Funds (research your location on the Entrust website, www.entrust.org.uk, and find out if you are eligible), as these grants, made by landfill operators, are usually generous, and could cover most of the cost of limited interventions.

These funds may be discontinued in a few years; so get ahead of the game and apply sooner rather than later.

The next alternative is to modify your plans by phasing the building works. Install the drainage and water supplies, and even the lavatory, in phase one, then repeat the fund-raising process for the other works, such as the servery, etc.

A further modification is to review the realism of your overall plan. It is advisable, when planning works, to keep at the front of your mind the potential sources of funds, and how much you might raise, and then plan your works accordingly; architectural feasibility is only helpful alongside financial feasibility.

Most churches can function well without an additional meeting room, however desirable it seems at the outset; and, certainly, gallery installations to give extra space are, in my experience, often the depositories for leftover jumble, old hymn books, and broken furniture. Galleries are extremely expensive to install when priced in terms of usable space gained; remember you would need to install a lift to give access to a gallery.

If you do not already have a pressing need for this extra space - as in groups lining up to use it - then put this development on hold until you are overwhelmed by demand. It will be far easier to raise funds for an unmet demand than it is for an expected demand.

All this means that you may not be able to afford the dream with which you started, but you will be able to meet immediate needs and leave open opportunities for the future.

But remember, if you borrow money to complete your plan, you will not be able to get grants in the future to repay those loans.

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