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Public asked about churches’ viability

22 December 2016

Ash Mills

Snow on snow: visitors to Salisbury Cathedral view the “blizzard” in the Trinity Chapel, last weekend. The display was part of a community performance project, A Winter’s Trail, run by Hoodwink Theatre over two evenings, and included song and dance. It was overseen by the artistic director of Hoodwink, Stephanie Jalland, and the director of outreach and learning at the cathedral, Sarah Rickett

Snow on snow: visitors to Salisbury Cathedral view the “blizzard” in the Trinity Chapel, last weekend. The display was part of a community performance...

A GOVERNMENT review of the long-term sustainability of churches and cathedrals in the UK has called for evidence of their uses and pur­pose from the communities that they serve.

The English Churches and Cath­ed­rals Sustainability Review was com­missioned by the Govern­ment in March. Its objectives are to main­tain the fabric of church build­ings, improve their accessi­bility through regular repairs and renova­tions, and research “creative and innovative ways” of using the space more ef­­fect­­ively for the wider community.

A public consultation opened last Friday, and closes on 31 Jan­­uary. Participants are asked to complete a short survey identifying their rela­tionship with their local church, and their views on its sus­tain­ability.

Questions include: “How much do you agree or disagree that your local church building belongs to you?” and “In your experience, what are the main factors that would pre­vent a church building from being a financially sustainable resource for wider community activities?” Op­­tions listed are: a declining con­­grega­tion, lack of funding, lack of facilities, poor accessibility, and “No appetite for change”.

Participants can also suggest how their church can be “more closely integrated” with the community. The responses are to inform recom­mendations, due to be published by the review panel in the spring.

The 12 panel members, announced in October, include a trustee of the Churches Conserva­tion Trust, Sir Simon Jenkins; the Dean of Birm­ing­ham (and Dean-elect of Win­ches­ter), the Very Revd Catherine Ogle; and the lead bishop on church buildings, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge.

Dr Inge said this week: “The Church of England can be proud of the fact that we have been able to maintain our 16,000 parish churches without, until recently, any direct government funding.

“Our churches are arguably in a better state than they have ever been — those who doubt it should just take a glance at a few 18th-century prints [of churches in disrepair]. How­ever, we cannot be complacent, and we welcome the fact that the Government has initiated this re­­view.”

Bernard Taylor, chairman of the Royal Commission for the Exhibi­tion of 1851, who chairs the panel, said: “Cathedrals and church build­ings are amongst the most well-recognised and loved buildings of our national heritage, and need increasing levels of support to be maintained as assets for the whole community.”

A spokesperson for the Cathedral and Church Build­ings Division of the C of E said: “It is import­ant that as many people as possible share their ideas on the future of our collective church herit­age so that we can navigate the best path forward to secure these buildings for future generations.”

The Church Build­ings Review Group, chaired by Dr Inge, published a report last year (News, 16 October 2015) which sug­gested that the Church should ask the Government to find more money to support listed churches and ca­­thed­rals.

To give evidence visit: www.gov.uk/government/consultations/english-churches-and-cathedrals-sustainability-review.

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