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Tourists cast their votes on English churches

26 October 2018

Survey rates stained glass, church interiors, and visitor facilities

National Churches Trust

A stained glass window in St Margaret, Herringfleet, in Suffolk

A stained glass window in St Margaret, Herringfleet, in Suffolk

CORNISH churchyards are the best for wildlife, while Suffolk churches have the best stained glass, a survey of British churches’ potential for tourism suggests.

Norfolk and Shropshire are said to have the best interiors, while London has the most churches rated as “five-star” for providing visitor-centred facilities such as parking, refreshment, and lavatories.

The findings come from an analysis of 2000 churches in 77 counties by the National Churches Trust’s church-tourism website explorechurches.org. They were assessed in eight categories: interiors, stained glass, churchyards, atmosphere, wildlife, natural history, monuments, and social history. Visitor facilities were also examined to find five-star churches offering the best overall tourist experience.

The Trust’s vice-president, Bettany Hughes, said: “Our analysis will help tourists and visitors discover the amazing heritage of churches and chapels.

National Churches TrustNational Churches Trust

“We hope it will encourage more people to become passionate about these tremendous buildings packed with memories of human life, often dating back over 1000 years. As well as signposting the best architecture, stained glass, and history, our data also includes information on visitor facilities, which allows us to suggest which churches are ‘five star’ attractions.

“Our study shows that churches and chapels offer a tremendous range of unique experiences for visitors, including tower climbing, wildlife spotting, and even live music. There really is something for everyone.”

An associated poll for the Trust showed that almost half (49 per cent) of Britain’s adults — about 25 million people — visited a church, chapel, or meeting house in the past year. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) said that their visit was for a “life event”, such as a wedding, funeral, or baptism; 22 per cent had visited for tourism; but only 11 per cent for a purely religious activity such as eucharist, another service, or prayer.

The survey of 2037 people, by ComRes in September 2018, also found that eight per cent went to find a quiet space or to light a candle.

Wales and the south-west of England were found jointly to be the most popular with visitors, both at 56 per cent; and the West Midlands (38 per cent) and Scotland (36 per cent) were the least-visited.

Almost one quarter of those surveyed said that they would be more likely to visit a church as a leisure activity or tourist attraction if it had better visitor-friendly facilities such as accessible lavatories, a café, or parking near by. A fifth said that cultural events, including concerts or exhibitions, would attract them, and 12 per cent said that an onsite welcome and a guided tour would be a draw.

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