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Churches flaunt their assets as ‘champsites’

15 February 2019

Joseph Casey  

Bedded in, at Champing Warminghurst, in East Sussex

Bedded in, at Champing Warminghurst, in East Sussex

FALLING asleep during a long, boring sermon is generally a thing of the past, but today there is an increasing welcome for people wanting to nod off for the night in church.

Camping in church — or champing as it is known — was devised in 2015 (Features, 30 January 2015) by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), in which a proportion of closed churches are vested , to encourage walkers and cyclists to visit its properties and to create a useful source of income. Today, it is so successful that it runs 18 “champsites”, which were used last year by almost 2000 people, each paying about £49 a night for a camp bed and basic facilities among the pews (News, 31 March 2017).

This summer, the Church in Wales, in a partnership with a businessman in Ceredigion, James Lynch, who runs forest sustainable holiday centres, will offer similar facilities for cyclists in remote rural churches as part of the Welsh government’s Year of Discovery tourism campaign.

And now Hereford diocese is trialling a version of the scheme which will, for the first time, sustain a functioning church community. It has launched a bid for Lottery funding to market-test a luxury two-person “pod” at the western end of the Grade II* listed St Mary Magdalene, in the hamlet of Turnastone, near Hereford. If successful, it hopes to spread the idea nationally (News, 6 October 2017).

“Champing is brilliant, but we thought, ‘Let’s go one better and go a little bit up market, a bit more comfortable,’” the diocese’s community-partnership officer, Wendy Coombey, said. “We are not doing this to preserve medieval buildings. They are primarily — and remain — a Christian place of worship. We are trying to do it so that we can generate some revenue for very tiny congregations so that they can keep the buildings going as places of worship and help fund ministry and mission in those areas. We are trying to preserve these buildings as holy spaces, not trying to create a wholly commercial enterprise.

“There is a certain demographic of people who come here; they tend to be professional couples with disposable income. They come for the heritage, the culture, the food, the drink, the built and natural environment; so we can appeal to them by developing this type of project. Architecturally, we are looking for it to be the best quality it can be; we are talking about something which is comfortable, quite plush, and that fits with a medieval church.”

Their research has shown that visitors would not be put off by church activities during their stay, and locals welcome the idea.

Chana James, of the Churches Conservation Trust, which is advising Hereford diocese, said: “Champing really capture people’s imagination. This year, we are focusing on expanding the experience for guests, producing activity packs for families, trails around the church and so on. People want to enjoy the countryside, and all our churches are in rural areas where there are lots of walks and other activities near by.

“It’s about making champing an experience rather than just somewhere to stay, and giving the champers a nice feeling that they are supporting our work conserving these buildings.”

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