"Stave off decay by daily care" : William Morris upon setting up the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877
The importance of undertaking regular maintenance cannot be stressed enough. At the bottom of this page you'll find our guide to church building maintenance.
The four main reasons why maintaining your church building are:
- preserving heritage: regular, minimal and small-scale work helps maintains original features and fabric
- saving money: when things go wrong, they cost a lot to put right. Historic England's research undertaken in 2019 'The Value of Maintenance?' showed that acting on small repairs now can save 15-20% in costs further down the line. preserving resources:
- preventative maintenance is sustainable; by keeping buildings in a good condition we save the energy and materials needed to repair them
- promoting guardianship and community involvement: historic churches are in our care in trust for the next generation, as they have been for centuries. Maintenance is an area where you can involve the wider community in caring for their own heritage
The key elements
There are three key elements to maintenance:
- inspection: undertake regular inspections, to assess condition, identify problems and to decide whether work is necessary
- regular maintenance tasks: jobs like clearing gutters, testing services, checking for damp and clearing the churchyard
- minor repairs: ongoing minor repairs to the building, perhaps as the result of extreme weather, can include fixing slipped roof tiles, replacing broken glass or making temporary ‘flashband’ repairs
Your denomination will have advice on maintenance so always look there first - please look at our listing of denomination websites or check out our Support Organisations directory for dioceses and denominations.
MaintenanceBooker is a website which makes it easy for churches, chapels and historic buildings to book maintenance services through accredited and experienced contractors.
The MaintenanceBooker service is currently available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It enables churches to access and book professional accredited contractors who are experienced in church and historic building maintenance for services including maintenance of rainwater goods, masonry, trees, high level inspections and repairs and asbestos survey and removals. It also provides guidance, helpful videos and small grants.
There is also a section on their website on championing volunteer-led maintenance in places of worship.
Historic England have a lot of useful information on the maintenance of church buildings and other places of worship.
In Scotland information can be found on the Historic Environment Scotland website.
In Wales information can be found on the Cadw website.
In Northern Ireland, information can be found on the Department of Environment Northern Ireland website.
Carefully inspecting your church to assess its condition and noting any problems should be done at least once a year.
Following a maintenance plan or maintenance calendar is strongly advised, so you can keep track on what needs to be inspected and when is the best time of year.
We encourage churches to follow a maintenance checklist (or plan) in order to keep track of what needs doing and when, and we require applicants to our Grant Programmes to have one of these in place.
In 2020 we worked with Historic England and The SPAB to revise our detailed maintenance plan template, now a "checklist". This has now been endorsed by the Church of England, Baptists Together, and Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
You can download the template and use it when planning the maintenance of your church building.
Every church, chapel, or meeting house is unique. Each was built and has developed relative to its local area and community. There will be maintenance tasks which you need to do which your neighbouring church does not, and vice versa.
However, there are standard tasks which ALL those who care for churches, historic or not, should be carrying out on a regular basis. Below is some information about what to look out for, and what the underlying causes of maintenance problems could be. There are also some links to other related resources.
Keeping your roof weatherproof and watertight is vital for the maintenance of your entire building. Depending on your roofing materials, and how complicated your roof structure is, you might need to check for:
- cracked, punctured or lifted lead
- slipped or broken tiles or slates
- missing or broken ridge tiles / leading
- debris or corroded lead in valleys and gulleys
- moisture or damp in roof timbers
- active beetle infestation in roof timbers
- debris, infestation or signs of bats in roof space
Please remember: roofs can be dangerous and all inspections should be done with proper risk assessments and safety equipment. Buy some binoculars and a torch and make friends with your neighbours - their first floor window might be a good place to start your inspection. If you spot a problem, don’t carry out any work without consulting an expert with the right equipment.
Watch the video we made in conjunction with the SPAB about maintaining church roofs.
Many cases of damp inside a building can be traced back to something very simple outside, like a blocked or faulty gutter. Keeping your rainwater goods clear and allowing the water to flow freely away from your building is one of the most important routine maintenance tasks.
You should clear all gutters twice a year (November and May), but interim checks to your rainwater goods are best done when it’s raining… grab your umbrella and walk around your building, checking for leaks, overflows and any other problems and making a note of them ready for a dry day.
Check all drains and soak ways. Lift any manhole covers, and flush drains to ensure that they are running freely and without blockage
Again: take care if you plan to do any work yourself, and make sure you have the right safety equipment for the job.
- MaintenanceBooker : Useful Advice on Rainwater Goods Maintenance
- MaintenanceBooker : Clearing Rainwater Goods - SPAB's Three Point Guide
Watch the video we made in conjunction with the SPAB about maintaining rainwater goods.
Solid and stable, and sometimes ancient, it is easy to take the walls of your church for granted. Yet, walls are often a key part of the heritage of your building… showing off local building materials and techniques, and telling the story of building, rebuilding and enhancing as your community’s needs changed.
You should check carefully for damage or wear, as well as for the use of inappropriate and damaging materials or techniques in the recent past. Inside, you should check for signs of damp or water penetration. You should ensure that any problems are dealt with using matching materials and techniques, which will not only look better than modern alternatives; but will also allow your building to breathe. If pointing is required, flush pointing is preferred and you should avoid ‘strap’ pointing which can cause damage to stonework.
Floors and ceilings
Floors and ceilings probably need little maintenance beyond cleaning.
Check ceilings for any signs of damp, or structural movement… which may indicate a lack of ventilation in the roof space.
Check all floors for signs of damp and timber floors for excessive spring. Both may indicate lack of ventilation or poor drainage outside. Carefully check stairs for soundness, and keep clear of clutter.
Watch the video we made in conjunction with the SPAB on maintaining church interiors.
Windows and doors
Window openings, stained and plain glass, and original wooden doors are real assets to your heritage. They help to tell the story of your church, and may have been changed over time to reflect fashion or architectural and artistic advancements. Many are centuries old, and will last for many more if maintained properly.
Window openings should be checked for signs of wear and weather damage to stone or brickwork. Also check for damage caused by expanding metal, embedded in the structure to hold glass in place.
You should check glass, especially stained or coloured glass, for signs of condensation or damp. It can cause huge deteriation if left unchecked. Usually the cause is lack of ventilation, which should be addressed as soon as possible.
Check that all doors, and door furniture is in working order. Check wooden doors for signs of damp or active beetle infestation. Ensure that all doors forming part of fire protection or means of escape are not blocked or locked shut.
Furnishings and fittings
Organ: check in the organ chamber for damp or structural problems. Remove all rubbish or stored items and keep the area clear and well ventilated. Also check that the annual tuning and maintenance has been carried out.
Furniture: check that all furniture is in good order and structurally sound. Dispose of unwanted and surplus items of furniture and fittings if possible.
Fabrics: check storage of all fabrics, but particularly historic or delicate altar cloths and vestments. Make sure they are stored correctly so prevent damage or decay through damp.
Utilities and protections
You should carry out regular checks on utilities and appliances, such as checking for leaking pipes, dripping taps, worn wires or inefficiency. These checks will help you protect your church from accidental damage, and may also highlight areas where you can reduce energy or water consumption and save money.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be fitted where possible, and regularly tested. If you have fire extinguishers check them annually to see if they need servicing or replacement.
Watch the videos we made in conjunction with the SPAB on maintaining building services.
Always make time to check any external areas around your church.
You should check churchyard walls, monuments and memorials, paths for any structural problems, and keep them clear of moss and leaves. Also check hard landscaping for water drainage, and make sure that rainwater is not running towards your building.
Check trees and other vegetation for disease or in case they are obstructing paths, and cut back or remove where necessary. Make sure you check with planning authorities if any trees have preservation orders.
Check that external septic or fuel tanks are sealed and working correctly, and make sure that nothing is stored or gathered up against external; walls (eg debris from churchyard cleanups) as this may cause damp.
Watch the video we made in conjunction with the SPAB about maintaining church exteriors.
Five videos produced by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in association with Historic England and the National Churches Trust, provide guidance on how to maintain and protect places of worship, including advice on church roofs and rainwater goods.
They are designed to be used in conjunction with the Maintenance Checklist for Places of Worship, an easy-to-follow template that helps wardens and other volunteers monitor their building. Please find the videos on the SPAB website. website at the bottom of the page.
The series includes:
- How to maintain church exteriors
- How to maintain church roofs
- How to maintain church rainwater goods
- How to maintain church interiors
- How to maintain church building services
Our own maintenance videos, produced as part of our MaintenanceBooker project, can be found on the MaintenanceBooker website.
The series includes:
- Useful advice on rainwater goods maintenance
- Tackling Asbestos
- Choosing the right mortar
- Trees, vegetation and churches
- Water ingress
Even if you are undertaking regular and effective maintenance, repairs will not always be avoidable.
Your building may develop structural problems, or parts may simply wear out. Older repairs using inappropriate materials and techniques may contribute to the decay, or you may find an infestation of insects or fungus.
Where possible you should always try to repair, rather than restore and replace. Repairs carried out sympathetically will preserve as much of the original fabric as possible, whilst securing it for the future.
Like for like repairs can still require governing body permissions, for example Anglican churches typically require Archdeacon's List B consent.
You should always ensure that the appropriate materials and techniques are used, so as not to cause further problems in the future.
If you find yourself facing major repairs, perhaps to your church roof or structural repairs to stonework, always consult a professional.
You can find out more about how to manage a major repair or building project on our special developing and managing church building projects web page.
With the support of The Pilgrim Trust we provide grants to support churches with maintenance needs. To find out more, please look at our grants page.
The Pilgrim Trust also supports an annual award for churches to celebrate their maintenance achievements. In 2021 the Nayler Awards for Excellence in Church Maintenance was won by St Matthew's church in Surbiton in South West London
Support with maintenance
Working with other churches and local volunteers, can make carrying out the tasks much easier by sharing knowledge, skills, resources and costs.
Organised area wide maintenance schemes have three main advantages for congregations:
- they work with reliable and competent contractors selected by the Scheme
- there is an agreed process for both contractors and church to follow
- operating on a large scale with a small number of contractors reduces costs
Currently, there are only two formal maintenance schemes still operating around the country that we know about:
The SPAB's Maintenance Co-operatives Project (MCP) was founded in 2013 and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The objective was to pilot the setting up of maintenance co-operatives to manage maintenance across groups of churches and to produce and test resources so that others could set up their own co-operatives.
The project was run across five English regions, in collaboration with the National Churches Trust and other sector partners and provided free of charge, practical support to many dedicated staff and volunteers who took part. Building on the success of Faith in Maintenance, several Co-ops were set up as well as a further five 'Co-op Minis'. Volunteers from places of worship were assisted not only with training but also with practical support on bringing volunteers together, carrying out baseline building surveys and turning all that knowledge into maintenance plans and practical working parties.
You can learn more about setting up a maintenance co-operative in your area on the SPAB website.