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Obituary: Peter Ainsworth

23 April 2021

Churches Conservation Trust

Peter Aiers writes:

PETER AINSWORTH, who died on 6 April, aged 64, gave more than 30 years of commitment to public life and made a significant contribution to the heritage sector. His involvement in heritage dates back to 1995, when he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for National Heritage. He was a member of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee from 2009 to 2010.

A former investment banker, Peter was a founding partner of sustainability consultancy the Robertsbridge Group and was also a Patron of the College of St Barnabas, Lingfield. At the Heritage Alliance, Peter chaired the organisation through the pandemic, which affected many of its members. They are extremely grateful for the way in which he both supported the Alliance’s growth and tirelessly championed these organisations — numbering more than 150.

Peter chaired the Big Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Community Fund) in the UK from 2011 to 2019, and was a board member of the Environment Agency. He also chaired Plantlife International and the Elgar Foundation.

Peter was appointed Chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) in July 2016 and became Chair of the Heritage Alliance in 2018. Latterly, he was also a member of the Rhodes Commission.

Peter was an inspired choice to chair the CCT, as he possessed several important qualities necessary for navigating this singular organisation through its complex relationships with Church, State, and communities.

With a joy in beauty, Peter really appreciated historic church buildings and their architecture, in addition to the more intangible qualities of these profound places. As a poet, he penned a sonnet about church buildings which was placed in all CCT churches at the end of the first lockdown in the summer of 2020. He was always modest, and the poem is ascribed to “Anon.”

Peter also really understood people. In work social situations, he could often be found talking with the humblest of guests in favour of those of great standing, genuinely supporting staff and volunteers and being kind and appreciative of all they did. Peter had a huge sense of fun, often mimicking people and reciting some hilarious limericks; laughter was never far away when he was in the room.

With all his experience, Peter had a great understanding of the machinations of Whitehall and the Government. In his understated way, he had a great network of contacts and built lasting relationships with many people. The Prime Minister led the tributes on the announcement of his very sudden death.

Peter believed that the future management of historic places of worship was the biggest heritage challenge to be faced by the country over the coming decade. The CCT is eternally grateful for Peter’s five years as chair and will honour his legacy in future work. The following passage is an extract from a speech he gave to volunteers of the CCT at the 2020 National Volunteer and Community conference:

“What happens next to the historic parish church is probably the biggest single question facing anyone charged with a duty to protect our national heritage. It’s not just a problem for the Church of England or the Government. Our historic churches are an emblem of what and who we are in our own eyes, in our own communities and in the eyes of the world.

“So what is to be done? What can the CCT do?

“We are keen to demonstrate that we have the people, the skills, the knowledge, the access to the crafts which will be needed to help sustain our historic places of worship. We know all about rotten roofs and gutters and damp and woodworm. We have been tackling this stuff for over 50 years. We believe that we have ideas and techniques and commercial contacts which can help.

“We cannot convert people back to Christian faith. That’s not our job. But we can demonstrate the connection which exists between a sense of history and access to beautiful places and thoughtful happiness and a sense of wellbeing and a pride in where we live. Our churches tell the story of our country, ourselves, in every place where they stand — or fall.”

Peter was passionate about effecting positive change and ensuring that heritage is understood as a public good: a true heritage hero.

Peter married Claire in 1981. He leaves her, their three children, and one grandchild.


Defeated? A sonnet to empty churches

by Peter Ainsworth, June 2020 

Come on. You lot have survived worse things:
Black Death, Plague and two World wars,
The Reformation (Cromwell clipped the wings
Of angels in the roof); and there are scars 

On ancient faces, marble noses cropped
And poppy heads beheaded like the King;
And modern vandals too. But you’ve not stopped
Your ageless plain ability to sing 

Of something quite indifferent to the now;
Built with a trusting love and potent faith
You stand there still in testament to how
Beauty is not a wafted fleeting wraith,

A ghost which chance can whimsically destroy;
You can be filled, if not by faith, with joy.

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