ADVICE on how churches can protect themselves from the twin winter threats of bad weather and crime committed during dark nights and dim days has been issued by Ecclesiastical Insurance.
Its campaign Ready, Steady, Go offers three steps to cope with bad winter weather:
Ready: do essential maintenance now; know the layout of heating and water pipes in case they freeze or burst, and how to thaw them out safely; have a plan for managing floodwater, and moving church contents to safety.
Steady: keep up the maintenance regime; prepare churches for larger than usual visitor numbers over the festive period; have an action plan in place for safe access during icy or snowy weather; know who is responsible for clearing and making paths safe, and how it is done.
Go: know whom to call and what to do — or not do — during a “major weather event”.
Ecclesiastical’s risk-management technical services manager, David Parkinson, said: “Storm damage is the most frequent claim we see from churches, and can be quite serious, with damage to windows and roofs and water getting inside.
“There can be a double whammy where water gets in over sensitive areas, such as the organ. Flooding is less of an issue, but, in 2015, about 60 churches and halls in England were affected by flooding, and the total repair bill was around £3 million.
“We try to promote regular checking on the building, particularly after bad weather. Take a walk round, check the roof for dislodged slates, or pinnacles and finial crosses that might have been loosened.
“Also, look for leaves building up in guttering, causing water to overflow. It’s very much good housekeeping: taking early steps to avoid more serious incidents further down the line.”
Ecclesiastical estimates that, every year, one in four churches suffers theft, vandalism, or arson. Crimes already reported this winter range from cash taken from a Christmas-tree festival at Holy Cross, Uckfield, in East Sussex, and the lights from the Christmas tree outside John Knox Church, Stewarton, Ayrshire, to the theft of a replica suit of armour from Holy Trinity, Hull, and the removal of a life-size infant Jesus from a nativity display at St John’s, in Perth, for the second time in two years.
“Sadly, churches continue to be targeted by unscrupulous individuals,” Mr Parkinson said. “Outbuildings can be particularly vulnerable: things like mowers and ground equipment are quite saleable. Also, although the church might be secure, if thieves can get their hands on tools or ladders, it gives them the scope to get into the church itself; so people should think about safe storage of equipment and ladders.
“Unfortunately, churches have been targeted by arsonists; so limit storage of any combustible material or waste such as papers, and keep matches and lighters secure. Don’t store petrol for mowers in the church.
“An open church is safer than a locked one. We encourage the public and members of the congregation to visit the church regularly. If you have people coming and going, it discourages thieves. You get that community buy-in: if people use the church, they take some ownership of it, which helps.
“We put guidance on our website. It’s not particularly groundbreaking, but it is common sense; so people can protect the building and preserve it for future generations. A lot of churches are Grade I and II* listed; and once you lose that heritage, it is gone for ever.”