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Try and try again

02 January 2015

How is the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) programme for church repairs going? We hear stories of churches that are struggling to find match funding.

MY RESPONSE is also anecdotal, but may reflect at least some of what is happening.

Some churches are turned down when they first apply, despite their targeted works' fitting the Repair Scheme criteria. This is very straightforward; grants are offered to the most pressing cases first, working down the list until the money is all allocated. So those below the break off point are left grantless.

Reapply as soon as possible, however, because your project will be more urgent the second time; and ensure that you have explained the urgency fully. Unless the officers at the HLF suggest that you change your bid, you can even use most of the answers as written the first time. Since you are as much as a year later, remember to increase your projected building costs by at least the level of building-works inflation.

And, yes, some churches are struggling to find the balance of the money after being offered a grant that covers part of the cost of their project. This is not the old Repair Scheme administered by English Heritage; so consider it differently when you ask for the grant amount.

Simply look at the total cost of the works (works plus all fees* plus VAT), deduct the VAT amount (you will reclaim it from the Listed Places of Worship Scheme), and deduct the amount you have in your building fund and any other reserves that can be used; the balance is what you ask for.

It is unwise to expect to raise large additional sums against the clock because you have not asked for all that you need.

There is an extensive amount of paperwork all through the process. Every step has to be double-checked with grant officers through all kinds of summary sheets. You have to re-do the main grant form after the development stage, in order to get your main building-grant released.

The language is that of the grant sector, and it is not always easy to know what you are being asked. Some items on checklists are not applicable to the church sector, but are still listed, as this is a generic form. I suggest that the same person fills out all the forms and claims to create consistency, but, most of all, I suggest that you keep contacting the grant officer whenever you are confused by the system.

Your "scribe" should have a couple of other people from the church who are completely au fait with the paperwork, so that you can discuss things together and the potential for stress is reduced. It seems that the grant system, designed for the heritage sector, is really suited to professional fund-raising and management staff, and we amateurs in the church sector have to run to catch up. I recommend that you submit paperwork with your best effort, and let the officers come back with any gaps that need to be filled.

There are built-in stages with the scheme during which your paperwork, once submitted to HLF, will then be forwarded to English Heritage for double checking. When you plan your programme, check with your grant officer about the amount of time that that double-checking may take.

A key issue here is that, particularly after you go out to tender and submit those documents for double checking (with your revised version of the main application form), the process may well take more than eight weeks. This matters, as most tender prices are time-sensitive, and are guaranteed for only 12 weeks. Head any problems off at the pass by keeping your preferred contractor advised on your progress, and implications on price can be dealt with early.

*Look at the HLF guidelines with your architect so that absolutely all fees are included, from archaeologist to structural engineer.

Send questions and issues to maggie durran@virginmedia.com.

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