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Outcomes for rural churches

07 March 2014

In your column on Heritage Lottery Fund repair grants (31 January), you did not mention the new "outcomes for people" element that applicants are expected to outline and deliver. This is a massive change, and we fear that this element is the reason why urban churches seem to be successful in gaining grants, and why the scheme does not recognise our rural context. 

ALMOST all grants from all sources are about people, and the benefits that a project will bring to them. The only variant that springs to mind is the Friends of Friendless Churches - although I expect that even those churches have visitors.

I suspect that, just as in its previous manifestation as the Joint Repair Scheme, the Heritage Lottery Fund has a system for prioritising who gets a grant in any round of grant-giving. Every project will have to show some heritage activity, as that is fundamental to the Heritage Lottery Fund mission.

Once that has been shown, however, the fundamental criterion is the urgency of the works included in the repair project. The nearer the building has got to any kind of structural failure, water ingress, or loss of heritage material, the higher up the list it goes. Then, when the grants begin to be handed out, the grant assessors begin from the top of the list, and make grants until they run out of money. You may have come lower on the list, but the letter from the Heritage Lottery Fund probably advised you.

Disregarding the heritage activity for a moment, if you were turned down as less urgent, then I suggest that you reapply: more urgent projects than yours will have disappeared, and your works will now be more urgent as a result of the wind and weather.

The heritage activities on the application form are less of an issue. Think of the many people in your village who bought a lottery ticket, and thus contributed to the repair grant - you now have a chance to give them a benefit in return.

The Repair Grants offer you the opportunity to include a sum of money to initiate or support heritage activities. This grant can include a session with a heritage expert, who can advise you on a suitable small project. This couldbe as simple as an information leaflet for school visits, a handbook for local people, or an event that tells people what is happening.

Maybe the stonemason who is repairing the tower can explain his work; or the archaeologist who is "watching" the groundworks or floor replacement can give a talk, with photographs.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is interested in heritage activity appropriate to the organisation, not in asking for hard-pressed churchwardens to be overburdened with unfamiliar activity. Help is possible.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has some friendly staff who, once you have done your preliminary application, are available by phone, or at a meeting, to give you advice, and could help you get this section together.

I also suspect that big urban churches are better at making abig noise about having received a grant offer than the smaller village churches who are quietly getting on with the work.

Send issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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