English Heritage is embarking on the most ambitious attempt yet to assess the condition of the region’s historic places of worship.
A major sample survey is being undertaken as part of English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk programme to give a unique insight into the condition of the nation’s listed religious heritage and to find out how many buildings are at serious risk of decay. The results will be announced on 30th June.
Most of the country’s 14,500 listed places of worship are in good condition and are a huge asset to their communities, thanks almost entirely to the work of volunteers. Many are adapting to incorporate crèches, cafés and post offices alongside worship. But some are struggling simply to keep open. The cost of maintaining these beautiful buildings is an on-going challenge, not least because what makes them special within our landscape is also what makes them more costly to repair than less spectacular buildings.
Yorkshire and the Humber has over 1,300 listed places of worship, spanning 1,000 years of history, from the medieval village churches of North Yorkshire and the Humber, to the huge congregational chapels of West Yorkshire built during the Industrial Revolution, together with landmark churches constructed in the 20th century in South Yorkshire. Over 20% of these buildings are designated as Grade 1 – recognised as being of outstanding national significance. Examples of listed religious buildings include:
St Peters, Scarborough
St Hugh, Old Brumby, Scunthorpe
Holy Trinity, Queensbury, Bradford
St Mary, Rawmarsh, Rotherham
Trevor Mitchell, English Heritage Regional Director for Planning and Development, said:
“Our grant schemes for urgent repairs to places of worship are oversubscribed, indicating the scale of the challenges facing hard pressed congregations. But we want to get a much clearer picture of the issues they face so we can work towards finding viable local solutions and focus resources. It is a massive responsibility maintaining historic religious buildings and well over a third of all the grade I buildings in the region are used for worship. We want to listen to church wardens, ministers, property stewards, trustees, members of parochial church councils and others in congregations and hear what they have to say about the problems they face and what they would like to see done. We all have a common goal – to give these wonderful buildings a long life at the centre of the communities they serve.”
Nationally, the majority of listed places of worship are Church of England (85%). Others are Catholic parish churches, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church and other Nonconformist chapels, Quaker meeting houses, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras as well as a number of buildings now used by faith groups but previously built as schools, cinemas or shops.
Research has involved looking at a representative 10% sample of listed places of worship of all kinds across the country. In addition, English Heritage is inviting congregations to take part in discussions to find out what really matters to them about their place of worship and what they really need to help them turn what some see as a burden into a building in which they can take pride and joy.
To widen its research and to improve its understanding of how it can best help congregations to help themselves, English Heritage invites anyone with an interest in their local historic church or other place of worship to tell them of their challenges and successes and answer a few simple questions on its website www.english-heritage.org.uk/powar
Based on the results of all this research, and in partnership with a wide range of faiths, denominations and heritage groups, English Heritage will publish a practical guide bringing basic information on looking after your building into a single leaflet for all faiths. Much valuable information already exists but the guide will be an easy first step to finding it, for example on the Church of England’s www.churchcare.co.uk and via other partners’ publications, websites and telephone help lines. Reflecting the main concerns of congregations, the guide will point people towards help with maintenance, fundraising, welcoming visitors, widening use, making changes, security and sustainability.
English Heritage hopes that this leaflet will reach as many listed places of worship and interested individuals as possible and everyone who signs up on the website will get one.
English Heritage has been providing grants to individual faith buildings (latterly in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund) since the 1970s. In 2008 it started offering funds to help dioceses, denominations and faith bodies employ staff that support congregations with locally-identified needs. It has also worked with pilot projects in London, Suffolk and Gloucester to explore how regular maintenance on challenging buildings can be made easier.
The new Heritage at Risk research on places of worship means that this hugely important part of the historic environment can be added to the wider view of the condition of England’s heritage which the register provides. It already includes listed buildings, registered parks, gardens and battlefields, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks and conservation areas.
No new places of worship will be added to the July 2010 register but, after consultation with those who care for them, examples will be added where appropriate. The register helps everyone to galvanise action, direct limited resources to areas of need and focus attention on saving the best of the past for the future. Eventually it will make England the first country in the world to have a comprehensive picture of its heritage at risk and to understand and address the challenge that represents.
To ensure you receive a practical guide to looking after a listed place of worship, sign up at www.english-heritage.org.uk/powar