We are developing our church to make it usable by outside groups on a lettings basis, so as to further our mission and increase our income. But we hear of people failing to pay for lettings and causing damage; how should we plan this responsibly?
START by preparing guidelines and booking-forms for people who use the church. There are certain things that must be covered: the deposit, for example, and how it is returned; the letting fee, and what exactly it covers (for example, the hirer should pay for the set-up and clear-up time besides their activity slot); and spaces that cannot be entered or used (the communion table cannot be the location for refreshments, or the font for flowers).
The guidelines should also include health-and-safety items, from cables to hot drinks; guidance on what to do to remedy, for example, spillages of food and drinks on the stone floor; who to contact from the church if it is necessary during the activity; and unlocking and relocking arrangements.
Then there is also putting rubbish out in the bins before locking up; bringing in heavy equipment in ways that respect the building; replacing all the chairs when finished; cleaning standards; use of the kitchen and its equipment; and so on.
The booking form should include contact details for the hirer, the name of the responsible adult making the booking (whom you can hold to account), and the nature of the activities, so that you can check that these are appropriate to your church. You could remind people who intend to play music (live or canned) that they should have the relevant permissions in place to pay the required fees.
It is the responsibility of the hirer to have their own insurance and to comply with the laws governing the protection of children and vulnerable people.
By the way, many churches have banned wedding receptions from their churches and halls (even those of church members), as they have experienced damaged fittings, abuse of the key-holder who comes to lock up, vomit and mess in the lavatories, and more. Too often, the temptation of free booze overwhelms the guests.
When you set the level of the returnable deposit, you should set it high enough to cover possible damages that may occur, from actual damage to the structure to the need to bring in a commercial cleaning team to tackle the mess. The hirer may also lose money if they commit themselves to cleaning up, but fail to do this within the booking slot; they should pay for the extra time involved, and ensure that it does not prevent the next booking from going ahead as usual. This is tough, but necessary.
For groups that are moving regular bookings from other locations, such as halls, ensure that you get references from the previous venue. Do they keep their agreements? Are they too noisy? Have they paid on time?
With regular bookings, it is still incredibly important that you collect all fees before the booking, and take a deposit, as above. Whatever the circumstance, if you allow a group to have its “own” cupboard, ensure that the church holds a key to that cupboard, both to ensure safety and prevent fire risk, but also to avoid legal problems over ownership and access to the church.
Leases should be developed only with the help of the legal advisers to the diocese. The rules for church leases are peculiar to, and different from, those for other landlords.
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