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Insurers decline to pay for roof repairs after storm wrecks Dorset church

04 August 2023

TONY GILBERT

The damaged roof of St Mary the Virgin, Glanvilles Wootton, Dorset

The damaged roof of St Mary the Virgin, Glanvilles Wootton, Dorset

A VILLAGE PCC in Dorset will need to find £47,000 for roof repairs after insurers turned down their claim.

The limestone tiles on one side of the chancel roof of St Mary the Virgin, Glanvilles Wootton, were torn off during a violent storm in December, but Ecclesiastical Insurance rejected the PCC’s claim, saying that the damages were the result of wear and tear. The firm said that nails and the 150-year-old timber battens holding the tiles in place were in a poor state, and should have been better maintained.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” the Team Rector in the Three Valleys Team Ministry, the Revd Tony Gilbert, said. “We only had our quinquennial survey two years ago. The nails that hold the tiles in place had failed, but they are under the tiles, and the architect who does the quinquennial doesn’t take things apart to look.

“We were saddened that Ecclesiastical would not pay out, but this has not really altered our opinion of them. We have had a good track record with them. There was an electrical fire about 12 years ago, and they were very quick then, and paid up for everything.

“This just seems a bit of a quirk: perhaps other churches should look at their policy. But if Ecclesiastical are saying it’s fair wear and tear, I don’t know what you can do about that.”

A temporary waterproof cover has been installed at the 14th-century Grade I listed church, and services have not been disrupted. “The real worry was that, as the tiles are very heavy, the weight of the side that remained would push the whole thing over,” Mr Gilbert said. Experts now believe that this is unlikely, however.

The parish is about halfway to meeting the repair bill, thanks to fund-raising efforts and a grant. One villager has pledged £1 for every £1 raised, up to £10,000. “We can do some remedial work straight away, and hope to raise the rest quickly,” Mr Gilbert said. “We are a rural church, and the congregation is small, but a church building in a country village attracts a great deal of loyalty, and people are happy to help, but it all does fall on a small congregation — and it does hinder normal parish work to some extent. We hope to be back to normal by Christmas.”

One of the churchwardens, Lucy Parrott, told the Daily Mail: “It isn’t as though we have been told in the past to mend it and have ignored that advice. I think everybody connected with the church was a bit annoyed by the response. We did expect some help from them.”

A spokesperson for Ecclesiastical Insurance said: “We understand that this is disappointing for the customer, and are sympathetic to their situation. However, after careful consideration, we have concluded that there is no cover for this incident under the policy.

“Where claims are made we actively look for cover and pay out on all valid claims. Our insurance policy’s general conditions state that churches have a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to protect and maintain the property to prevent damage or injury. In this case, an expert on-site inspection made it clear that the cause of the loss was wear and tear, not as a result of extreme weather

“Unfortunately, failures due to wear and tear over time are specifically excluded by the policy.”

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