THE National Churches Trust (NCT) has struggled to keep up with demand for its grants from hundreds of historic churches in urgent need of repairs, its annual review states.
The NCT received applications for grant funding from 480 churches and chapels in England and Wales last year — up 26 per cent from 2016. It awarded grants to fewer than half (230) of these projects: a total of more than £1.7 million.
Yet this total was still up by £300,000 on the previous year.
Its chief executive, Claire Walker, said that the increase was possibly due, in part, to an “extremely generous bequest from a long-standing supporter”, which increased the total income of the Trust last year by more than £800,000 above its target of about £1.5 million.
Climate change was having a “serious impact” on demand, she warned. “The intensity of extreme weather patterns, including heavier rainfall and storms, is putting church gutters and drains under strain, and systems designed in the past cannot cope.
“Higher levels of rainfall in the UK, such as the 20-per-cent increase seen in Scotland since the 1960s, with more cycles of wet and drying, will cause damage to timber and stonework. Stronger winds and more frequent storms will threaten roofs, towers, and spires.
“Climate change is also making the UK ever more vulnerable to invasive pests. The danger for church buildings would be termites.”
Most NCT grants were awarded to Anglican places of worship (86 per cent), and in the south-east and south-west of England (31 per cent). This included places of worship owned by the Church of Scotland, the Church of Ireland, and the Church in Wales. The Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Reformed, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches also received a small proportion of funding.
The report suggests that the NCT has increased the diversity of its grant-offering to help meet demand. Its partnership grants programme was extended to include churches in Wales and Northern Ireland: the Church in Wales match-funded three grants of £3000. Its grant-repair programme awarded 50 grants of £5000 and above last year, to help cover the cost of urgent and essential structural-repair projects.
The NCT also introduced two new grant programmes last year: maintenance grants, supported by the Pilgrim Trust; and project development grants, which covered the costs of early planning stages, including feasibility studies. More than £63,000 was awarded to 14 projects in the first stages of planning, of which 33 per cent were successful, the report says.
The report also points to the national launch of MaintenanceBooker, last month (News, 15 June). The online booking system, funded by Ecclesiastical Insurance, makes it easier for churches to secure skilled workers for maintenance. In addition, the NCT awarded six grants, totalling more than £5000, to churches in Yorkshire and Northern Ireland to help cover the cost of repairs logged in the system.