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Restorations speed up again, but beware of roosting bats

04 September 2020

Construction firms navigate challenges of the pandemic

Jonathan Baker

Restoration work in place at Beverley Minster

Restoration work in place at Beverley Minster

THE coronavirus has caused “huge complexity and confusion” for churches in need of restoration and repair, the head of Historic England’s places of worship strategy, Diana Evans, has said.

“As well as the increased costs that come with delays, contractors might not have the staff they need, or may have completely gone bust,” she said.

DBRMasonry repairs at St Peter’s, Brighton

Having the churches closed during the spring, one of the best times for repairs to those where bats roost, has also potentially led to delays.

“In very rare cases, there are issues around licensing for wildlife. If the bats are now in maternity roosts — which happen in the summer — you’ve got to wait until they have got through that phase in their biological cycle, to the next window, when you can start restoration works,” she said.

She was keen to emphasise, however, that the “emergency Covid-19 grants have provided opportunities. The furlough scheme has been an enormous help, but any funding to get restoration works going comes on top of anything from the government.”

Ms Evans admitted that the heritage sector faced significant issues in the medium term, including a lack of skilled workers, combined with a shortage of funding because grant schemes might no longer be available. But the attitude of congregations had a made a big difference, she said.

“It’s very positive that congregations have realised they can do minor maintenance and repairs, and address problems when they start so they don’t escalate into major repairs. It’s important to celebrate that you can do this for much less than a major series of repairs would cost. Be proud of that, even if it’s small. Don’t be overwhelmed by what you can’t do: be proud of what you can.”

The conservation and heritage specialist DBR Ltd has had clients including Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and Lambeth Palace. Its executive director, Adrian Attwood, described how, despite the challenges, the pandemic had also provided space for maintenance work.

Sam CorleyRenovation work at Holy Trinity, Boar Lane, Leeds

“Social distancing on site can be difficult, but with churches outside of London it’s been easier due to more space being available. You need to stagger people’s breaks so that they can keep a metre apart.

“The shared use of toilets can be a challenge, as you need to make sure they are properly sanitised after being used, but that’s easier if buildings have their own facilities.

“Some staff members can work from home, but on-site workers can’t do that. There have also been difficulties getting hold of materials like brick and plaster when the manufacturers close down, as well as PPE.”

He continued: “Churches not having services has made things easier: a lot of our clients are using the lockdown time to carry out essential maintenance, so there’s the least amount of impact when the premises reopen to the public.”

He said that projects at some buildings had ground to a halt when revenue from tours and donations dried up, owing to the pandemic; but there was hope that the situation would pick up in time to hold functions for Christmas.

“The uncertainty has been the biggest challenge. The guidance changes a lot, and it’s hard for people to invest or make plans,” he said.

In Yorkshire, the Vicar of Beverley Minster, Canon Jonathan Baker, spoke of the long-term challenges that the building faces. “Covid-19 affected us in different ways. The maintenance staff were furloughed, but they are back now; so there’s no major issues with our work on the lesser south-transept roof — the scaffolding could be built outside the minster, and so was not delayed by the virus.”

He also said, however, that the quarry where the stone was coming from was “closed down because of the staff being on furlough. This led to a delay when waiting for the stone to arrive, and, in turn, our order from the quarry was bigger than expected.

“The work is supposed to end in November, but whether it will be finished on time or not will depend on the availability of the stonemasons. The extra orders and quarry closures mean you have the extra cost of finding additional stonemasons. It’s an open question as to whether that is possible or not, as you need to know that the people you bring in, who are new to the building, can do the work to a high standard. That’s an additional cost.

DBRRepointing a ragstone wall

“The lead in the roof is also an issue. Some of it goes back to the 18th century, and is nearing the end of its natural life. Although lead can be melted down and recycled, we still have leaks everywhere, a problem that is getting harder and harder to keep up with.

“The longer we put off getting on with replacing it, the greater the likelihood of increased costs, and we know there will be less money going around as the recession hits.”

He also said that the main worries for future work on the minster were to do with fund-raising: “The work on the lesser south-transept roof is only the first phase — we were getting a major fund-raising drive going, but lockdown has knocked that into the long grass. It’s been hard to get interest from local businesses or sponsors, and hard to network and raise awareness of the campaign.

“The main way we can fund the work that needs doing is through major grant-making bodies, or individuals who can make substantial gifts. However, more and more people are chasing fewer funds. We are in the same boat as everyone else, but fewer things can be taken for granted.”

The Rector of Leeds Minster, Canon Sam Corley, said that efforts to renovate Holy Trinity, Boar Lane, a project funded by the Church of England’s Strategic Development Fund, to create a church for workers in Leeds city centre, had started in May.

He said that undertaking work on a Grade I listed building in the middle of the city was “always going to be a challenge”, but that “in some ways, lockdown has made it easier, in that the surrounding businesses were closed until the middle of July; so the impact on our neighbours was minimised.

“The downsides have been the difficulty in obtaining supplies — particularly lighting components. And we have extended the project deadline by eight weeks, because of the impact of social distancing on the number of people who can work on site at one time.”

Some churches have adapted in the short term to the funding challenges posed by Covid-19. St Marylebone Parish Church, in London, said in a statement: “When lockdown became a reality in March, the parish church’s Changing Lives fund-raising campaign had just been launched. One of its aims was to carry out urgent fabric repairs, including the replacement of the failed Regency roof which has put the building on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register.

“A grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019 had provided a strong start to fund-raising. We delivered an activity and heritage outreach programme, as well as donors who have generously contributed at this difficult time, with grants and gifts totalling £1 million received between March and July.”

But the church still needs to raise a further £3 million by April 2023, the statement says.

DBRRepairs to clockface masonry

Last month, a grant worth £280,000 was made by Historic England to save a medieval church tower in Norfolk from the threat of collapse. Work will now start at St Mary’s, North Tuddenham, near Dereham. The project includes fixing structural cracks that were repaired only temporarily, and undertaking work on the tower walls, buttresses, and parapets, and a new drainage system.

Some religious buildings were able to complete work already in progress. The Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral announced in July that a significant phase of its £16.5-million project Connected had been completed. This involved the refurbishment and extension of the Old Deanery, on the north side of the cathedral, to create a new visitor centre. It includes a reception area, shop, café, lavatories, community rooms, exhibition, and learning spaces.

The organ of St Michael-le-Belfrey, York, was removed a year ago, but was reassembled last month in the north transept of St Lawrence’s, York, at a cost of £360,000. The organist at St Lawrence’s, Jonty Ward, said that it was “the first organ in 137 years in the current building that will properly fit with the stature of the building, both visually and musically.

“I am looking forward to seeing it fill the church with music, once the installation is complete.”

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