Our church is showing some troubling stone decay, high
up on the walls and tower. The surface is breaking up, and we are
worried that stone may fall on passers-by. Do you know if emergency
grants are available anywhere?
THE past few winters have certainly taken their toll on church
stone - even the past mild, but wet, season. Yours is certainly not
the only church that is raising concerns.
It is important that the projects that we undertake to conserve
and repair stonework on our churches are considered thoroughly
before any work is done, as there are so many factors to
First, have a meeting on-site with your architect, and together
begin to assess both the extent and the urgency of the
stone-conservation and repair needs. This may be a question of
viewing through binoculars, and assessing from high-level access in
the tower, or behind parapets.
With your architect, identify the most urgent elements of stone
repair which might fit into the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Repair
Grants for Places of Worship Scheme, and send off their enquiry
form. With the Scheme's approval you can go forward to make an
At this stage, your architect's estimate of the cost of works
will be a best estimate, and it may be helpful to have a quantity
surveyor's input in the cost-assessment.
Once you are in the system for the grant scheme, there is a
thorough development stage in which a grant can pay for all the
studies that will be needed to inform good decision-making. For
example, a structural engineer can assess whether the stonework
problems are jeopardising the structure of the building, or whether
the damage is primarily to the facing. A stone consultant will look
closely at areas of damage, and advise on ways of making repairs.
The examination may be assisted by use of a cherry picker, so that
close looking (and tapping) at otherwise inaccessible stone can
take place. The architect can then report on the best way to tackle
the stone issues.
The HLF will assess all the findings and move your church
forward to the stage when permissions and tenders are in place, and
the work can get under way. Unfortunately, this process can take up
to a year to complete.
So discuss with your architect, again, the level of urgency. If
stone is flaking off, and causing a risk to passers-by, then, while
the cherry picker is in place, I have known architects to brush off
deliberately any stone that is threatening to be loose enough to
fall, thus keeping the project safe until works can happen.
If the work is making the structure of the building hazardous to
users and passers-by, and cannot last for that year, then it may be
time to restrict pathways, put up "dangerous structure" signs, and,
if necessary, restrict use of the entire church. If you do need to
take the latter course, talk to the HLF early on about how to get
work under way speedily.
Similarly, a temporary support may be needed to areas of serious
structural deficiency, but, in these cases, I suggest that you ask
the diocese, through your archdeacon, to help you to find the way
It is possible that if your damaged area of stone is small, and
the budget is not too high, then, despite the urgency, you might
choose the route of applying to a few of the larger trusts that
help with church repairs, as they may make a quicker response.
You will still have to go through a responsible series of
preparatory steps under the guidance of an architect; after all,
your stonework will have to last at least another 100 years after