Caring for the Church

What is involved in caring for a historic building which has been the spiritual centre of the parish for over 850 years? Well, quite a lot actually. The task is very interesting and rewarding but it can also be challenging and a bit frustrating at times. As the old saying goes: “many hands make light work”; so would you like to know how you might be able to help?

One way of looking at the maintenance of the church is to regard it as three linked roles: (1) project management; (2) fund raising; and, (3) routine regular maintenance. These functions are inter-related but, each of them can be done separately and require different skills.

(1) Project management begins by identifying the building work to be done. This can arise from periodic building inspections or as a result of damage that has been noticed.

The Church of England has its own formal approval process for all building repairs, especially affecting historic and listed buildings. It is the equivalent of the planning process used by Local Authorities and requires formal consultation. If everyone is satisfied about the need for the work and that the repairs will not detract from the historic value of the building, legal approval will be granted through the issue of a Faculty before any work can proceed.

One of the main tasks involved is liaising with architects and other building professionals to draw up specifications for the repairs. These are then used to obtain quotations from building contractors. The next stage is to obtain approval for the work. A Faculty will be needed for all significant projects affecting the fabric of the building. For more straightforward work, approval may just need a letter from the Archdeacon. In some cases, the parish can arrange the repair without needing to discuss with the diocese. Once approval is given, the final stage is to liaise with the contractors on the arrangements for the work, ensuring that all health and safety requirements have been met. For any work affecting graves and historic monuments and artefacts, an archaeologist is usually engaged.

(2) Fundraising is mainly about obtaining grants from charitable trusts to finance the building projects. Some funds may come from social events such as church fayres, sponsored walks, etc. but these activities are usually undertaken separately.

There are a number of organisations that offer grants to churches for building repairs. An important aspect of this work is to research these sources and to understand the terms and conditions for receiving their grants. The organisations that offer grants all have different aims. Some are mainly interested in creating more community facilities; others want to help particular groups in society, such as vulnerable young people, or people with health restrictions. Some trusts wish to protect heritage and promote conservation. It is these that will often provide grants for historic church building and they usually expect that the grants will help to keep buildings open most of the time and for as many people as possible to visit and use.

Fundraising work usually begins with agreeing what funds are needed for particular repairs and improvements. This is done in discussion with the churchwardens and the Church Buildings Officer (who usually undertakes the project management role above). After researching what grants are available, the next step is to apply to the charitable trusts for their grants. Depending on the scale of the project, it is likely that a number of grants will be applied for and from different trusts who will all have their own application processes. Many of these processes involve completing online forms and providing supporting documents such as audited accounts. If the application is successful, most trusts require some evaluation of how the grant has helped the parish and they may also wish to see how their award has been publicised.

Almost all the activities involved in fundraising and in project management can usually be done from home and at a time to suit. The amount of work involved will depend on the number and type of repairs that are required. As well as longer-term projects, there may be short but urgent repairs occasionally. It is difficult therefore to state how much time is needed per week for both these roles: on some weeks, hardly any time will be taken up; but on other weeks, it may take several hours. The most important tool is access to the internet. Communication is mainly by email and by phone.

(3) Building Maintenance is about keeping the church building and churchyard in good condition. This can be led by one individual but will usually need a team of volunteers to cope with the amount of work involved. Much of the work is in line with an annual maintenance plan so that the building and churchyard are checked regularly. Any damage or repair that is spotted is then reported to the Buildings Officer and churchwardens. Some minor repairs can be done by the maintenance team or individual but many repairs will need to be referred for action to the buildings officer.

An important aspect of this work is regular maintenance and upkeep in order to prevent more serious and expensive repair. For example, some key activities are: keeping gutters and downpipes clear so that water does not damage walls; cutting down ivy and small-scale vegetation; ensuring that the churchyard is not overgrown; checking that churchyard memorials are secure and safe; and, arranging the periodic cleaning of the church interior and carpets.

This work would suit someone who is practical and organised and who prefers hands-on work, rather than paperwork. By its nature, most of this work is at the church rather than at home.

I hope you find this information helpful. Although it is up to the Parochial Church Council (PCC) to agree what building work should go ahead, especially for more expensive repairs and projects, the functions above do not have to be done by PCC members. If you would like to know more about how you can get involved with any of these roles, please speak to our churchwardens, priest-in-charge or to any PCC member.

April 2020