Church buildings to get long-term aid

28 July 2017

Contender: St Baglan’s, Llanfaglen, and the three other pictured churches, are among the 50 churches, chapels, and meeting houses that are competing to be “Wales’s favourite church or chapel” in the NCT’s Sacred Wales (Cymru Sanctaidd) campaign. To vote, visit www.sacredwales.org.uk

Contender: St Baglan’s, Llanfaglen, and the three other pictured churches, are among the 50 churches, chapels, and meeting houses that are competing to be “Wales’s favourite church or chapel” in the NCT’s Sacred Wales (Cymru Sanctaidd) campaign. To vote, visit www.sacredwales.org.uk

THE National Churches Trust has unveiled plans for safeguarding church buildings in the long term, amid fears that the closure of ring-fenced funding schemes will force poorer churches to compete with large or­­­gan­isations.

In its annual review, published on Wednesday of last week, the chair­man of the Trust, Luke March, de­­scribed the contribution of the Govern­­ment-supported Listed Places of Worship grants, and Her­it­age Lottery Funding (HLF), which is sponsored by the Depart­ment for Culture, Media and Sport, as “ex­­tremely instrumental” to the long-term sustainability of church build­ings.

But he had been “disturbed” when HLF confirmed that it was to absorb its £25-million Grants for Places of Worship fund into its existing heritage programmes for all buildings (News, 7 April). Its funds are to be redistributed through two existing HLF programmes, in Sep­tember: Our Heritage, for grants up to £100,000; and Heritage Grants, for grants of up to £5 mil­lion.

“It is vital that the HLF’s move to make churches compete with the wider heritage sector for funding does not result in a significant loss of grants for urgent structural re­­pairs,” Mr March wrote.

He laid out a five-point plan to safeguard the future of churches. It includes a new website, Main­tenance Booker, that provides pro­fes­sional resources for churches; the pro­vision of extra facilities, such as lava­tories; the pro­­­mot­ion of tour­ism, particularly through its website, ExploreChurches; keeping churches open but safe from van­­dalism; and securing long-term fund­ing.

A spokesman for the Trust said last week that ring-fenced state fund­­ing for churches had been “amaz­­ingly successful” in sup­port­ing historic churches of all deno­minations, since 1977, but that the concern was that churches would strug­­gle to compete for funding against other organisations.

“Denominations which regard a church as a sacred space may be particularly affected, as they may find it impossible to meet funding criteria which demand high levels of community use.”

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The annual report states that since its creation ten years ago, the Trust has awarded more than 1600 grants, totalling about £15 million, to support Christian places of wor­ship across the UK. This includes £1.4 million last year to help carry out repairs and other building projects at 166 places of worship. Its total income was lower than in 2015, how­­ever, owing, the report explains, to a particularly generous legacy that year.

But the figures also revealed a significant disparity between the regions. Most of the grants in the past decade were awarded in the south-west of the UK, including South Wales (477), while East Anglia received 332 grants, and the north-west, 328. This was compared with a total of 60 in Scotland, and ten in Northern Ireland.

The spokesman for the Trust said that these areas were being pri­oritised in its three-year plan to 2018. “These areas of the UK have in the past received lower levels of grant funding from the Trust, partly as we have received very small numbers of grant applications, and some of these have not met our funding criteria.”

Scotland had received 11 per cent of NCT grant funding last year, he explained, and spending in North­ern Ireland and the north-east of England was due to increase “sig­nificantly” next year.

“We will continue to work with local partners to improve the quality and quantity of projects coming to the Trust from our priority areas, and believe that this will help ensure that our funding is evenly distrib­uted across the UK.”

www.nationalchurchestrust.org

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