Review calls for change of attitude to church buildings  

21 December 2017

PA

Activity: a skate park set up inside Malmesbury Abbey is cited by the review as an example of a church building being used by the community

Activity: a skate park set up inside Malmesbury Abbey is cited by the review as an example of a church building being used by the community

CHURCHES should prepare for reduced reliance on government funding, an independent review has concluded, while calling for a “cultural shift” where communities contribute to their upkeep.

The Taylor Review, commis­sioned last year to report to the Chancellor and Culture Secretary, recommends that, from 2020, the Government provide £66 mil­lion a year, compared with the “exceptional high” of 2014 and 2016, when it was £90 million.

“Long term, it is the view of the Panel that the Church of England should aspire to reach a position where its buildings can, as far as possible, be financed sustainably with reduced reliance on Government funding,” it says. In the mean time, pilot studies of a new approach, funded by the Govern­ment, should be undertaken. These would test three of the review’s recommendations: a national net­work of “Community Support Advis­ers” who could advise congrega­tions on building relationships and using their buildings to meet local needs, and a network of Fabric Sup­port Officers to work closely with them to plan and execute works. A mechanism for assessing priorities for repair would also be trialled.

The review envisages that fund­ing these two roles would cost the Government £15 million a year and recommends, in addition, a £36-million major-repairs fund and a £15-million minor-repairs fund. Currently, the Government pro­vides £42 million a year through the Listed Places of Worship Scheme. With falling congregations, churches have come to rely increasingly on grants and government funding, it says, although most funding comes from local people and charities.

“The long-term survival of Church of England church build­ings requires a change in the way many communities regard these buildings,” the review concludes. “We need to create a cultural shift in attitudes towards church build­ings such that communities realise they are resources they can use and congregations have the confidence to share space and where appro­priate to ask for a fair income.”

The report notes that, in many places, congregations and clergy have created “vibrant hubs at the centre of their wider communities”. But, it says, many are “struggling to identify suitable partner­ships and opportunities”, or are “too overwhelmed by their situation to be able to explore options”.

Bernard Taylor, who chaired the review, said on Tuesday that there was evidence that communities wanted to use churches — “they are really iconic and they want them to survive” — but that, in contrast to pre-Victorian times, they often regarded them as solely places of worship rather than as places that could have different community purposes.

The CSA officers would act as “catalysts” to change this. The review envisages CSAs would “be able to help congregations across a spectrum of experience, from ‘wor­ship only’ to ‘mainly non-worship uses’”. The main theme emerging from the thousands who responded to the review consultation was “the huge care that people feel for these buildings”, he said.

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