Heritage Lottery Fund removes ring-fence around church grants

07 April 2017

GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL

Alternative funding: Gloucester Cathedral is to receive a £50,000 grant from the city council in support of its Project Pilgrim development plan to create a new cathedral green adn a welcome area, as well as carry out conservation work

Alternative funding: Gloucester Cathedral is to receive a £50,000 grant from the city council in support of its Project Pilgrim development plan to cr...

SERIOUS concerns over the future of church buildings were raised this week, after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) confirmed that it was to absorb its £25-million Grants for Places of Worship fund into its existing heritage programmes for all buildings, with almost immediate effect.

The HLF has covered the cost of urgent structural repairs and improvements to listed churches in England since 1994, having taken over from other state
bodies. (The HLF is sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.)

But the ring-fenced programme will close to new applications in September, and its funds will be redistributed through two existing HLF programmes: Our Heritage, for grants up to £100,000; and Heritage Grants, for grants of up to £5 million.

The move comes after sales for National Lottery games and tickets, from which HLF takes a share, dropped by £35.1 million (7.5 per cent) between 2015 and 2016.

A spokesman for HLF said on Tuesday that the change would not equate to a cut in funding for places of worship, however. “This year, we will spend a guaranteed minimum of £20 million on places of worship, and if places of worship continue to apply for National Lottery funding at similar levels, we fully expect to spend at least this amount in subsequent years.”

The change would make the application process “simpler and less bureaucratic”, he said. “Also, rather than HLF defining the scope of fabric repairs, applicants can now apply for funding for whatever they feel they most need to help to make their building sustainable.”

Currently, applicants go through a two-round process for Places of Worship grants, to gain an early indication that the project is eligible for a grant before the final stages of planning, and also to attract some funds during the application process.

But the director of the Church of England’s Churches and Cathedrals Division, Becky Clark, was not convinced. It currently costs about £160 million a year to maintain, improve, and build C of E buildings. “Whatever the reassurances that some funding will still be targeted for places of worship,” she said. “We believe this change will have a negative impact on our churches’ ability to access essential funds to maintain a precious national resource, which continues to be the centre of many communities.

“We also find the timing extremely unfortunate in light of the ongoing review of church-building sustainability, which has yet to report.

“We were not consulted in advance of this decision, and what appears to be a very short timetable for transition will leave church communities uncertain and concerned. However, we are now in conversation with the Heritage Lottery Fund and trying to understand the reasons for this decision. We would urge them even now to reconsider.”

We also find the timing extremely unfortunate in light of the ongoing review of church-building sustainability, which has yet to report.

“We were not consulted in advance of this decision, and what appears to be a very short timetable for transition will leave church communities uncertain and concerned. However, we are now in conversation with the Heritage Lottery Fund and trying to understand the reasons for this decision. We would urge them even now to reconsider.”

 

‘Do not be alarmed’ — the HLF chairman, Sir Peter Luff, defends the changes. THE Heritage Lottery Fund is changing the way that it funds places of worship, but there is no reason this should alarm congregations — in fact, it’s a very good deal.

Churches are being protected, not singled out for attack, as some have suggested. They will receive at least the same proportion of the funding distributed by the Heritage Lottery Fund in the new financial year as they did in the old one. Indeed, it is entirely possible they will do even better than at present.

We have distributed £850 million raised by the National Lottery to places of worship since 1994. We are immensely proud of what this has achieved, and National Lottery players deserve our sincere gratitude. But congregations have been telling us they want to access our funding more easily; so we are bringing in a more flexible and lighter-touch way of distributing this money from September 2017.

This will be significantly less onerous for applicants asking for smaller sums (up to £100,000). It will also be more flexible, allowing for a wider range of activities and capital works than currently, although projects with a focus on much needed repairs will still be welcomed.

For larger schemes, more money will be available for individual churches: £5 million per application instead of the £250,000 limit under Grants for Places of Worship.

This year, we will spend a guaranteed £20-million minimum on places of worship, and I expect it to be far more than this. If places of worship continue to apply for National Lottery funding as they have done, we should spend the same or more in subsequent years, as a proportion of our total grants budget.

Finally, we understand that even the best changes can occasionally have unintended consequences; so will be discussing the detailed implementation with church representatives and others to ensure we address all concerns.

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