The National Churches Trust in Action
|The congregation at Memorial Community Church, Plaistow, London. The church was
awarded a £20,000 community grant by the National Churches Trust in 2011.
There are an estimated 47,000 Christian places of worship in the UK, and 19,500 – 40 per cent of them – are listed. Indeed, of the most important listed buildings in England, more than half of those listed at Grade I are owned by the Church of England. The importance of these buildings as both places of worship and as historic buildings is undisputed. What is perhaps not so obvious is that churches are playing an increasingly important role in providing community facilities.
THE NATIONAL CHURCHES TRUST SURVEY
As the only national charity supporting churches of all Christian denominations, sizes, ages and locations, the National Churches Trust is in a unique position to assess the requirements of the ecclesiastical estate. In 2010 the trust conducted the first national survey on how the UK’s church buildings are maintained and funded, and how they contribute to their wider communities. The survey was open to all Christian places of worship in the UK and, encouragingly, around 9,100 places of worship engaged with it.
The overall message from the survey was extremely positive: church buildings are essential both to the UK’s heritage and to the vitality of towns and villages up and down the country. In addition to holding religious services, the survey estimated that nearly 80 per cent of church buildings are used for other purposes, including community activities, and nearly half are used for cultural activities, including arts, music and dance.
Church buildings are significant venues for volunteering and the survey estimates that more than 40 per cent of the UK’s church buildings are being used for support and counselling services on issues such as homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, finance and debt, parenting and mental health.
The survey also found that although many church buildings have key facilities, there is much room for improvement. It was estimated that nearly a third of the UK’s church buildings have no toilet facilities, and that listed buildings are generally the least well equipped. Many church buildings also lack adequate heating or tea and coffee-making facilities. Those which do have these basic facilities are more likely to offer additional community activities.
THE COMMUNITY GRANTS PROGRAMME
The importance of providing facilities such as toilets and kitchens and improved access for members of the public is now recognised as a key way in which churches can remain at the heart of local communities. That is why, in 2008, the National Churches Trust introduced the Community Grants Programme. The programme aims to enable wider and more active community use through the installation of new facilities and so ensure that the UK’s churches and chapels remain living buildings integrated into their local communities.
|The neo-Byzantine exterior of Memorial Baptist Church, Plaistow (William Hayne, 1921-2). The church’s east
tower houses a unique chime of ten pealing bells which bear the names of 169 men from the church and local
community who were killed in the first world war.
Since 2008 the trust has awarded 119 community grant offers totalling £1.3 million. Applications for the community grants programme are assessed by the National Churches Trust’s grants committee using the following criteria:
- Benefit – what is the demonstrable social benefit of the proposed project?
- Design quality – has its impact on the building been considered/challenged?
- Stakeholder participation – what planning, organisation and coordination efforts have or will be carried out by the place of worship to maximise the project’s chances of success?
- Attainability – is the project practical and attainable? Will a grant enable the work to be carried out?
A prime example of a place of worship benefitting from a community grant is Memorial Community Church in Plaistow, in the east London borough of Newham. The church building, which was originally called the Memorial Baptist Church, was opened in 1922 to house the congregation and the church’s welfare work, and it remains a vital and welcoming community hub.
In 2011 the trust awarded the church a £20,000 community grant to pay for the installation of toilets and improved access, including a ramp, new flooring, wide self-closing doors and an intercom system. The grant funding has allowed much greater use of the church by the local community for projects to help the homeless, young people and the elderly. These include the Bridges Project, which gives breakfast every Saturday to at least 70 homeless people.
Next door to the church is a sheltered housing scheme. Many of its residents have mobility problems but the provision of a ramp and toilets means that more of its residents can now attend activities organised in the church, including a new ‘Active Tuesdays’ group.
Community grants also help churches in more isolated areas. A £10,000 grant was awarded to Grade II* listed St Leonard in South Cockerington, Lincolnshire, which is the only public building in the village. The grant has helped to fund the installation of a kitchen and disabled toilet, enabling the church to host functions and provide refreshments.
|St Cleopas, Toxteth: facilities such as kitchens are key to helping churches remain at the heart of local communities. (Photo: Julian Hamilton)|
In 2012-13 the trust administered a one-off grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which allowed it to award several significant grants to listed places of worship doing vital work to support local people by providing resources that are not available elsewhere. Under this scheme, the places of worship that have been helped include St Mary, Malpas, Newport. Situated in a deprived suburb, this Grade II listed church was built on the site of a 12th-century Cluniac monastic cell, with the current neo-Norman Gothic building rebuilt in 1850. There was a need for greater community cohesion in the area and the National Churches Trust awarded a £50,000 grant to help construct a meeting room, provide disabled access and a small kitchen. Use of the enhanced facilities will include surgery sessions for a parish nurse scheme and activities for teenagers.
Another example now being funded under the DCMS scheme is in West Bromwich where the town centre is undergoing major regeneration. Here the Grade II listed Catholic church of St Michael and the Holy Angels has received a £40,000 community grant. Outdated and inadequate facilities mean that the church has been underused for community activities. The funding will upgrade toilet and catering facilities. This will help the church to meet the specific needs of the local community, for example through the provision of English language classes for new migrants, IT classes and dementia care.
CORNERSTONE REPAIR GRANTS
While community grants are becoming increasingly important in the trust’s funding of places of worship, repair grants continue to form the majority of its support for churches. In many cases, however, repair grants also help to increase the community use of churches. A good example is the £40,000 Cornerstone Grant awarded in December 2012 to Oxton Gateway Congregational Church in Birkenhead.
The grant will help to fund a programme of repairs and alterations worth nearly £1 million to bring the building back into wide and active community use. Once repair works are complete, the church will be a place where local residents can come together to solve local problems, such as family breakdown, unhealthy lifestyles, young people struggling with independent living and the isolated elderly.
Worship, of course remains at the heart of churches, chapels and meeting houses. Places of worship are also there to reach out to and serve the wider community. But many church buildings are very limited in what they can provide because of the simple lack of toilet or catering facilities. The trust’s community grants programme focuses on these basic needs, helping places of worship to expand their activities and increase the resources that they can offer their local communities. By investing community grants in well-researched and well-managed projects the trust is making sure that more people realise that churches are for life, not just for Sundays.