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Congregations lament having to offer visitors a cold welcome

13 February 2015


Lofty, but chilly: St Cuthbert's, Darlington, in Co. Durham

Lofty, but chilly: St Cuthbert's, Darlington, in Co. Durham

THE chill inside a church that English Heritage described as "one of the most important churches in the early English Style of Gothic architecture in the north of England" has meant that that the congregation at St Cuthbert's, Darlington, Co. Durham, has had to abandon the medieval Grade I listed building for the parish hall across the way.

The ancient gas boiler in the church meant that the temperatures inside rarely rose above 10°C. So, until the weather becomes warmer, services will be held in the 1970s church centre. Only those who wish to have its historic 13th-century setting for weddings or funerals will be able to use the church before the spring.

The secretary of the PCC's buildings group, Peter Gilmore, said: "Our first service is 8 a.m., but to heat the church we had to turn the boiler on at 2.30 a.m. the day before. The last service finishes at 7.30 in the evening; so we have to run the heating all that time. The cost was astronomical - £8000 last year - and we were not getting particularly warm for all that money.

"St Cuthbert's roof is very high - 70 foot, up to the peak - so the heat all disappears up there. Ironically, the air currents generated by radiators at one end of the church sucked cold air down from the tower into the nave. It was warmer when we turned them off. We had such a downdraught that our Advent candles, guaranteed to last for eight hours, were burned out in 45 minutes."

A new £50,000-boiler is planned for next winter; but, eventually, the PCC hopes to install underfloor heating, at a cost of £150,000.

"Like all churches, we have quite a few people over 80, and some of our older people were staying away because they were worried about the cold," Mr Gilmore said.

Last winter, two churches in Devon - St John the Baptist, in Broadclyst, near Exeter, and St Andrew's, in South Tawton - held trials of "hot-bott" cushions to keep worshippers warm (News, 8 November 2013). The cushions contain a chemically triggered reheatable pad that remains warm for up to 90 minutes, and can be held or sat on. The pad can be reheated up to 1000 times.

The Exeter diocesan environment officer, Martyn Goss, said: "The experiment was partially successful: we found that they were a useful supplementary to existing heating, but not good enough if the church was cold. However, a number of churches have asked us for them this winter."

The Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the Ven. Dr Richard Pratt, admitted that the cold might drive some to stay away permanently. "There is always the possibility that once people don't go to church because it's too cold, they don't come back in the summer. . . But it's a bit more subtle than just being too cold.

"People in the country are more likely to be sensible about wrapping up, and older people are more likely to be prepared to cope with it because their expectations of being warm in public buildings are much lower."

In his diocese of Carlisle, a number of congregations, including two in the Binsey team ministry, in the northern Lake District, have abandoned their churches for the warmer parish hall. And, at St Andrew's, Greystoke, near Penrith, a tent was erected in the nave to create a warm space for worship. "But the range of possible actions is limited," Dr Pratt said.

The Grade I listed Priory Church of St Mary and St Bega, at St Bees, in west Cumbria, has just installed a new heating system, which will run continuously for the first year, to warm its stonework and set an ambient temperature of about 12°C, which would be boosted for services.

Dr Pratt said: "However, if you are concerned about global warming and climate change and you are arguing that churches should reduce their carbon footprint, then you are actually wanting to say to people: 'Don't overheat your churches; do something about getting people to wrap up more sensibly when they come to church.'"

For guidance on modern efficient heating systems, visit the Churchcare website: www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/10-churches/520-guidance-notes.


Insurance claims rise. Claims made to Ecclesiastical Insurance show a big jump in payouts for the bad winter of 2011/12. It dealt with 126 claims for burst-pipe damage, costing £900,000, compared with 76 claims costing £300,000 the previous year.

Claims for injuries caused by slips and trips rose almost six-fold, from just 12 claims, worth £90,000 in 2010/11, to 71, costing £500,000.

Gravesend hosts pop-up store for the homeless. On Saturday, the author Vanessa Leah Stevenson, and the City Praise Centre and its charity, the With Love Foundation, are to host a pop-up street store for the homeless and those in crisis in Gravesend, Kent. Those in need can then browse the items and shop. www.thestreetstore.org

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