Closure of Heritage Lottery Fund’s Grants for Places of Worship Programme

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The Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Grants for Places of Worship scheme (GPOW) is to be closed in September 2017. This will mean that churches will have to compete for funding against all other heritage bodies and apply to the HLF under their general grant schemes. In effect, parishes will be in competition for funds with major heritage attractions and museums in order to secure funds for repairs – a truly David and Goliath scenario.

It is 40 years since grants for the repair of historic churches in use were introduced by the government. Grants for historic churches have always focussed on the repair of the fabric of the building, most particularly on the repair of roofs and high level stonework. Historic churches, mainly Anglican ones, make up a very high percentage of all Grade I and Grade II listed buildings in this country.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has some 750 listed churches. Many of these were constructed in the Victorian period and although very well built at that time are now reaching the point where their roofs need overhauling and leadwork replaced. Some more recently built Catholic churches, for example those from the 1960s, were often built using experimental building techniques and some of these, too, need major work.

The HLF’s Grants for Places of Worship scheme (GPOW) was introduced when funding cuts to Historic England’s budget meant Historic England had to stand back from church grant funding. GPOW provided funding for urgent high level repairs, continuing the focus on fabric repairs which has been central to church grants since 1977. Under the new system, churches -including unlisted ones- will be able to apply for funding under the general grant schemes but these schemes have a much broader range of HLF outcomes to be met. The emphasis on fabric repair is just one of many criteria.

In recent years, many Anglican churches have had their pews removed so that they can be used for secular community and commercial uses in addition to worship. If this focus on churches becoming community spaces – rather than being places of holiness and of prayer – becomes the benchmark by which HLF funding is allocated, Catholic churches will be severely disadvantaged in their ability to meet the required “outcomes” and their ability to access much needed funding for fabric repairs will be at risk. Catholic Churches need to retain their pews in place as the numbers of the faithful attending regularly require this and a Catholic church is a sacred space where secular activities cannot take place.

Archbishop George Stack, Chairman of the Patrimony Committee of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, explained “At the heart of this issue lies the criteria used by HLF for allocation of funds, which seems to be one of numbers, visitors and beneficiaries rather than focussing on the fabric of the building and its purpose. There is a need for sacred spaces, that is, spaces dedicated solely to worship, not commerce, food service, or entertainment. Catholic churches are holy places available for quiet prayer and reflection as well as for public worship. We try as far as possible to keep our church doors open throughout the week so the faithful can always have access to this very fundamental human need for worship and the spiritual. People of any faith and none can enter a Catholic church and appreciate its calm, serenity and beauty. This in itself is a public benefit that is being forgotten.”

Archbishop George Stack is due to meet Sir Peter Luff Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the near future.

Photo Credit: © Alex Ramsay