13 April 2017, The Tablet

‘Unfair’ Lottery changes will hit funding for church repairs

Changes to Lottery funding will unfairly hit repair and restoration work desperately needed by many church buildings, the Archbishop of Cardiff has said.

Under plans announced last month the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) £25 million Grants for Places of Worship programme will close to new applications in September. For the first time since 1977 there will be no “ring-fenced” government funding for churches and instead they will have to apply through the HLF’s existing Our Heritage and Heritage Grants programmes, which also support non-religious heritage.

The HLF is reviewing its budgets in the face of a drop of £35m  in ticket sales between 2015 and 2016. It says funding for churches will be maintained at similar levels. But now churches will have to compete with organisations which might be better resourced or more experienced at making funding applications and against  projects the HLF can showcase.

The HLF also requires applicants to show a community benefit from any project it funds.

In a strongly worded letter to HLF chairman Sir Peter Luff, the  Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference patrimony committee, said: “What today’s policy makers find hardest to comprehend, it seems, is that Catholic churches are sacred spaces. They are places of prayer and quiet reflection. The concept that our churches can be used for wider community use or for revenue generation in the way that Anglican churches increasingly are is simply impossible for theological reasons which go to the very root of the difference between the Catholic Church and Churches of the Reformation.

The concept of the sacred as understood by Catholics may well be anathema to many in today’s secular world but it is a reality for Catholics and it is high time that the HLF was less Anglican-centric in its outlook.” Archbishop Stack said many nineteenth-century churches, built during the Catholic Revival, are at a point when their roofs are failing.

He continued: “In the competitive and highly secular outlook of both schemes it is hard to see how Catholic churches needing funds for urgent fabric repairs will be able to ‘compete’ with museums, local history groups – and indeed Anglican churches putting forward new proposals for expanding secular uses. So far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the HLF’s aspiration that places of worship will benefit from greater levels of funding seems detached from reality.”

Becky Clark, director of the Church of England Churches and Cathedrals Division, said: “This change will have a negative impact on our churches’ ability to access essential funds to maintain a precious national resource.”

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