Hopes are growing that the government will create a national fund for repairs to listed places of worship following the success of pilot schemes in Greater Manchester and Suffolk. Historic Catholic churches were among 136 buildings that received grants totalling £1m for minor repairs during the Taylor Review pilot.
The schemes were funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and run by Historic England between September 2018 and March 2020. As well as awarding grants, the two teams conducted site visits and arranged workshops to advise volunteers about maintenance, encouraging a “stitch in time” approach to repairs. The pilot was one of the recommendations in the report by Bernard Taylor on the funding and sustainability of Church of England churches and cathedrals published in December 2017.
“The Taylor pilots were a very important piece of work because it is the first time that the government has provided specific funds for issues around the protection of historic places of worship to be explored,” said Sophie Andreae, vice chair of the patrimony com- mittee of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Ms Andreae is hoping that the independent evaluation of the Taylor Review Pilot published on Saturday will support the case for public funding to be made available for capital works on listed churches. The Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the income of Catholic churches by half to three quarters while many have accumulated a huge backlog of urgent repairs.
Cartoon by Pugh
The Catholic Church and the Church of England have applied for a share of a £34m fund announced by the government last August for the restoration of Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings in England. The Grants for Programmes of Works has been heavily oversubscribed and the Churches are waiting to hear whether their applications have been successful.
Historic England’s Diana Evans said the entire sector is hoping they will be successful. “No matter how well you look after your place of worship, stonework crumbles, roofs fail,” she said. “Many of these buildings have been working very hard for over a century so, inevitably, these things happen. To be able to access some help would be very encouraging for the people looking after them.”
Ms Evans praised the response of Catholic churches to the Taylor pilots. She cited the example of Sacred Heart, Southwold, Suffolk, which received £10,000 to repair the sacristy roof. Parishioners then forged a partnership with five other local churches to support each other with maintenance.
“The key thing we’ve learned is we want people to feel proud of what they can achieve,” she said. “If four or five of them get together with a flask of tea and clear drains on a November afternoon, that is doing your build- ing an enormous amount of good and prepares it for the winter.”