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How are repairs ‘sustainable’?

12 June 2015

The application form for a funding bid asks how we will ensure that our project is "sustainable". As this is a repair project, what are we really being asked?


AS YOU suspect, "sustainability", like "community", is a much and variously used word.

If you are repairing your building, it is pretty obvious that appropriate materials are sustainable ones. Your roof material, slate, tiles, lead, or other metal should have a long life without too many repair issues. The same with stone, gutters, and so on. The quality of work as checked by your architect will ensure this.

But sustainability, even for a repair project, can also be about how you are going to look after the repaired work. It is important that rainwater goods are checked and maintained: all too often, repairs from incoming water are necessitated by poor maintenance, gutters full of leaves, and downpipes blocked with debris. If repaired systems are not cared for appropriately, then the problem will recur, and that is unsustainable. Why repair it in the first place?

The question also arises when churches install new facilities such as lavatories, serveries, and heating. Can the church afford to run the new heating? Some install underfloor heating, which sounds great, but if you cannot afford to pay for it to be on from November to May, it is unsustainable: it would be better to install a radiator system that can be turned on when the church is used.

If you are applying for a grant from a heritage fund that includes heritage activity within the grant, or if you are applying for a community-facilities grant on the grounds of local demand for space, you should expect to make a case for the sustainability of the activities on which your bid is based, even if the money will mostly be spent on capital costs.

How will you manage activities in the building so that groups can continue to use the space, or so that heritage activities can continue beyond a one-off burst? Often, funders will ask about year-on-year projected numbers of users of the building or activities, and this will tell them that you plan to continue. It will also tell them how you will promote the use and manage the programmes.

One aspect of sustainability which is often ignored is "renewals". Lavatories in a public building are not a one-off fitting for ever. Every few years, you will need to renew the fittings, lavatory bowls, wash-basins, and towel-holder. Floor coverings, even tiles, will need renewal, and the dividing panels between cubicles will wear out.

As you plan your facilities, ask your architect for an estimate of how long the fittings will last before replacement. You can then set aside an appropriate sum in an accruing fund, to make your facilities sustainable. Do not be one of those churches - I have visited many - where the facilities are so run down (and often smelly and dirty) that no one wants to use them, but no one can work out how to replace them.

Trusts will not want to make grants to you if you are not going to look after what their monies provide.

Send your issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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