*** DEBUG END ***

Interview: Nick Swann, parish administrator, tutor

16 February 2024

‘It’s a bit like a stealth mission, and to get in and out of a church to video it without anyone noticing’

I’d had many jobs after I left school, but, by my mid-twenties, I wanted a career where I felt I could do some good. I’ve always liked children, and I spent a week observing a friend of mine who taught in a local village school. I knew instantly it was the career for me.

I enjoy working with younger children. I like their innocence and their willingness to trust. I can remember what I was like at their age, and felt I could relate to them well. I also liked teaching the wide variety of subjects that primary schools cover.

I left teaching, though, because of the paperwork, the very long hours, and constant interference from government. Initially, I bought a transit van and intended to be a handyman for a while, but my mother suggested I do some private maths and English tuition. Within a couple of years, the van had gone, and I was teaching 25 pupils each week.

The camaraderie with the pupils is the thing I miss most. You can have a lot of fun with 30 Year-6 pupils, and I miss chats at break times, when you could really get to know them better. Tutoring is great, though.

I’ve been most surprised by how much children achieve if you have high expectations of them. You create a well-organised and happy classroom, give them plenty of support and self-belief, and they know you genuinely care about them. Children rarely want to disappoint or let down a teacher they really like, and those who are far behind can make great strides if they feel safe, valued, and have no fear of making mistakes.

I don’t think education’s getting better. Not in the primary sector, anyway. It’s a lottery. There are some great teachers out there, but a lot of very poor ones, too. When I started taking an interest in primary teaching in the early ’90s, around one in five pupils failed to meet the standard in English and maths. It’s much the same today.

In a good school with good teachers, children are in with a good chance. In a poor school, the disadvantaged children may not get the help and support they need.

I love the variety of being a parish administrator. I’ve been doing the job for a year, and it’s good working with adults again — whether contractors, parishioners, undertakers, or colleagues within the diocese. My priest lets me get on with things; so I often find creative work to do. I produce posters, promotional videos, leaflets, and the parish magazine, alongside the mundane admin tasks.

Bureaucracy seems quite minimal in our diocese. Technology these days makes a huge difference to working more efficiently. We can do so much online now, whether it’s communicating, ordering, creating, sharing, or donating money.

I started making videos of churches as I observed declining church attendance, particularly in many of our local rural churches. I wondered whether a video of a church would provide a valuable record in the years to come, when many of these churches may no longer be places of worship. I started with a village church near by as an experiment, and it was well received; so it went from there. I have developed a format that I use in all the videos, but I look for improvements each time. The video is taken using an iPhone fixed to a gimbal — a stabilising device — and it’s edited using Lumafusion on an iPad.

It can be difficult to get good shots of inaccessible features or huge areas; so I tend to video smaller churches — and ones that aren’t obscured by trees. Huge evergreens’ blocking these magnificent buildings is a pet hate of mine. It must surely make the architects and builders, who so painstakingly created them, turn in their graves.

A favourite rock band of mine, Big Country, used a section of The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams at the start of their gigs. I thought it’d work well for the interior shots. The lull in the music allows it to be mixed with an uplifting hymn for the exterior shots. Generally, the images and video are edited to fit the music, where possible.

It’s a bit like a stealth mission, trying to find an attractive church that’s deserted and open when the sun is shining — and to get in and out without anyone noticing. If the parish knows I’m coming, I tend to get instructions, requests, and a lot of fuss made. I prefer just doing my own thing, and hope it finds approval. Once the video is edited, which takes about eight hours to do, I send a YouTube link to the church with a covering email. Reactions have ranged from absolutely delighted to no response at all.

I grew up with my younger brother and older sister in a happy home, with my housewife mother and architect father. I loved primary school, hated secondary school, and couldn’t wait to leave. One of my first jobs was as a DJ. I had my own mobile disco, and that was great fun. I joined the local pantomime group, where I got to know my future wife, Rachael, a little better. We’d been to the same Catholic school, and she was a Catholic. We went out for seven years, split up for seven years, and finally got married in our local Catholic church in 2009.

I can just about remember going to a Church of England church with my parents as a young child, and my primary school was C of E. We said the Lord’s Prayer daily, and sang hymns, which I enjoyed.

I went to a Catholic secondary school, which was good academically, with some wonderful teachers, but it took me away from my local friendship group, and, not being a Catholic, I always felt the outsider. But no doubt the seeds were sown for my conversion to Catholicism later by our parish priest.

Teachers giving up on less able children and not giving them the help they need makes me angry. When success in schools is measured by numbers passing tests, it’s easy to see why some teachers just put their limited time into improving the borderline students.

Creating music makes me happy. I’ve enjoyed making videos since my early twenties. I used to video weddings, but music is my real love. I enjoy writing pop tunes and electronic dance music. I have an alter ego, Nequado, and have my music on Spotify and YouTube, all of which is spectacularly unsuccessful.

I’ve also written a few hymns, and two — “There’s a light that shines” and “Alleluia! A King is born today” — are the most popular. My ultimate goal, before the Lord calls me, is to leave the world at least one published tune, whether a pop song or a hymn. For me, that would be mission accomplished, and would make me happiest of all.

I love the sound of children singing; four-part choirs; nuns singing, like the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Good will always triumph over evil. We’re fed so much bad news from around the world, but good deeds, large and small, are happening all the time. Believing God came into the world to save us is good enough reason for us all to have hope.

I pray for those I love, my family and my friends, for our fellow parishioners who are ill, and for those in need.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with a Second World War hero, such as Colin Gubbins (head of the Special Operations Executive), Winston Churchill, or Dwight Eisenhower. Or Clint Eastwood would be fascinating company. I’d love to ask him about his Westerns, his Dirty Harry films, and my favourite film, Where Eagles Dare.

Nick Swann was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

His videos are uploaded to his YouTube channel “England’s Old Churches”

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)