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Make and keep contacts

21 March 2014

We have begun to run our heating on a different schedule - longer periods at a lower temperature - and this has been successful in keeping us warm. But it does have a downside. Our boiler vents behind the roof parapet, and one night recently a passing policeman saw what appeared to be smoke rising. He rang the fire brigade, who immediately sent an officer to investigate. This, in turn, set off our burglar alarm.

No one wants to lose the lead off their roof, and this in turn led to the alarm company phoning the Vicar, who rushed to the church, not knowing what was happening, only that the alarm was ringing.

He was greeted by an array of officers, both police and fire. "I am glad you arrived," a fire officer said. "I was thinking we would need to break in through one of your good oak doors to ensure that the building was really OK."

A VICAR, in his pyjamas and overcoat, running to the rescue, only to find all the rescue services present - and, to top it all, nothing to rescue! It's too good a story.

But here is the nub. The "smoke" was the boiler smoke/condensation leaving the building by a flue, but there could have been far greater damage in just trying to check that all was in order.

The church had been diligent in giving contact phone numbers to the alarm company, the fire brigade, and, I think to the police, but that had been a while ago. Only the alarm company used the number that it had been given. The Vicar's phone number is also on the church's external noticeboard. Neither the police nor fire-brigade used this information, which was somewhere in their files.

This story suggests to me that personal contact, or lack of it, is far more important to the actions of people on the ground than filled-out forms of computerised references.

Obviously, the churchwardens, when appointed each year, can (and should) renew the information held by local services, even if it is to repeat last year's details. But it may help to visit in person, contact the beat officers, or drop into the fire station and become personally known. Officers of the emergency and rescue services may also appreciate invitations to events.

A friendly relationship can trigger a moment in the crisis when someone says, "Phone that friendly guy who dropped by the station; do you have the number?" It could save the oak door, or, if there had been a real crisis, could speed up the officers' access to the building and a resolution to the problem.

Plan to let the police and fire services have details of keyholders, what they do, and their phone numbers. Addresses may be relevant, too, because in an emergency the services will want to call on the nearest contact geographically.

There is another recurrent and related issue that affects fund-raising now that so many larger funders only work with online applications: Why do so many churches, despite having an address, have no postcode? They can be very difficult to find on maps, and even more difficult when online forms use automated systems that do not allow you to use the postcode of the nearest neighbouring building. Has anyone found a good way round this?

Your questions and comments to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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