As new churchwardens this year, we are unsure of all the items we should cover in preparing our church for the winter. Some things are obvious — others are not.
WHENEVER announcements about Harvest Suppers begin to appear, I recollect that it is time to use this season of mellow fruitfulness to do as you suggest and get ready for winter.
The wind and weather do their worst to buildings during winter months, teasing away at any chink that might give access to water in its dilute or frozen forms. Summer seeds may have spread to roofs, gutters, walls, and drains, and created opportunities for harmful ingress.
The most comprehensive checklist and maintenance calendar, in a form that non-specialists can understand and use, is prepared by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The grant that funded five years of church maintenance assistance has gone, but the work does continue through new co-operative ventures. Visit the SPAB website (www.spab.org.uk) for information and publications that can help you.
The principles are straightforward. Set yourselves up with a clipboard and a couple of hours, at least, to take a detailed look at the building inside and out.
At high level, the roof should be checked, with binoculars, from ground level, and from the tower —or even from a neighbouring building if you have no internal access to the roof level. Look out for any damage that might lead to problems. Are tiles or slates slipping or missing? Are the leaded areas in good shape? Blocked high-level gutters and downpipes are regularly an issue, especially in green and leafy neighbourhoods, and even the urban ones may suffer from random detritus blocking their course.
Check the walls around downpipes, as an accumulation of green crud can indicate leaking downpipe joints and water penetrating the walls. It is worth engaging a builder to clean out gutters and confirm that downpipes are functioning well by pouring down buckets of water. Some dioceses, such as London, have a gutter-clearing scheme to support churches that need assistance.
Ask your builder for before-and-after photos of the gutters and areas that are difficult to view from the ground. Mobile-phone pictures are perfectly adequate. These will enable you to build up a sense both of what accumulates and areas to watch out for in future years.
Look for foliage and even green moss on the walls, and make an examination at the wall-base to ensure that nothing is growing in the brickwork or compromising the free-flow of the drains. Venturing out in a heavy rainstorm to walk around the church is a good way to spot difficulties. Also, ensure that there is timely replacement of any missing window glass.
Inside the church, look for signs of water issues, and damage to ceilings, walls, and floors. This is the time of year when vermin or wildlife may have aspirations for new homes in sheltered spots. Take appropriate action as soon as signs are spotted.
There may be non-seasonal items to check and remedy, such as loose floor tiles, uneven steps, unsteady pews, and moths in the vestments cupboard. You will want to do an annual safety check and consider fire risks before candles proliferate on winter evenings; now may be a good time.
Make a report to the parochial church council so that everyone shares in responsibility for action on any items you have identified.
Send your issues and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.