English Heritage concerned over future of historic religious buildings

By staff writers
March 24, 2010

English Heritage, as part of its Heritage at Risk programme, has been researching the physical condition of historic places of worship - and says it is concerned about the future of some historic buildings of wide civic cultural value and interest.

On 30 June 2010 the heritage body says it will announce the results of a sample survey which offers an insight into the condition of England’s 'listed' faith buildings.

Around 45 per cent of the country's Grade 1 listed buildings - those deemed through expert evaluation as of the greatest historical value - are places of worship.

The survey will reveal how many are likely to be at serious risk of decay and will also explore what is happening in others in order to maintain these 'national treasures' for the future.

"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," says English Heritage.

"Many are adapting to incorporate crèches, cafés and post offices alongside worship. But some are struggling simply to keep open," the organisation declares in its latest press release.

"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."

Considerable sums of public money have gone into preserving places of worship 'listed' as of national cultural importance, in addition to money from the faith communities which in many instances maintain them together with wider community partnerships, though they are unable to meet the full cost.

Most listed places of worship are Church of England (85 per cent). 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 redundant buildings now used and preserved by faith groups but previously built as schools, cinemas or shops.

Research has involved looking at a representative 10 per cent 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 may best help congregations to help themselves, English Heritage is inviting anyone with an interest in their local historic church or other place of worship - irrespective of their religion or lack of it - to tell them of their challenges and successes and to answer some key questions on its website www.english-heritage.org.uk/powar

Based on the results of its extensive research, and in partnership with a wide range of faiths and civic heritage groups, English Heritage will be publishing a practical guide to looking after and preserving these buildings.

Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Congregations up and down the country are shouldering the huge responsibility of maintaining our historic religious buildings for present and future generations. English Heritage's Places of Worship at Risk project will, for the first time, give us a snapshot of the national picture and by analysing this we hope to deliver viable local solutions."

He continued: "We're bringing all the faiths and heritage organisations together, not to impose what we think but to respond to what [people] really want.

"Increasingly, churches and other places of worship are being recognised for the role they play in the wider community as the home to and inspiration for a range of voluntary services." said Dr Turley. "In helping to maintain historic churches, we are not only preserving beautiful buildings which have been the focus of community life and the repository of local memory for generations past, we are ensuring that they can continue to provide this wide public benefit for generations to come."

The English Heritage preservation survey is online here: www.english-heritage.org.uk/powar


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