Security and heritage crime

The security of your building, and the safety of the people who use it will be one of your main concerns.

Insurance companies are often the best source of advice. The main ones insuring church buildings include:

Security and heritage crime

Ensuring the security of your church building

Your church building is there to be used and getting the balance right between keeping it open and accessible, and protecting it against crime and anti-social behaviour, can be difficult. Securing your church does not have to mean bolting the doors. It should be possible to secure the building whilst still keeping your door open to worshippers, local people and visitors.

Day to day

These basic steps are suggested by Ecclesiastical Insurance:

  • Lock your church after dark - unless there is a service or more than one person present
  • Keep keys safe - in a secure place away from the church and keep a list of keyholders
  • Protect high-value items - chain items to the floor or wall or replace items with cheaper alternatives for display
  • Lock away valuables/money - keep money, silver, brass and pewter items in a safe or secure area
  • Keep and monitor all receipts for deposits - investigate any discrepancies immediately
  • Divide responsibility for money - appoint different officials for collecting, counting and banking

The Church of England has produced very clear guidance setting out the practical things you can do to make the church and site secure.

Ecclesiastical has published useful guidance on automatic door locks which may be appropriate for some churches.

Neighbourhood watch

By far your biggest asset in keeping your church safe are the many eyes and ears of your community.

Encourage them to be alert to the church, and ask them to have a look at what might be happening there when they go past or even pop inside as they will not only be able to make you aware of anything untoward, but also prevent potential problems by making the church appear busy. And let the neighbours know whenever you are having repairs/maintenance carried out as they will then be able to alert you if they see people on the roof at other times!

Opening up

If you are thinking of increasing the opening hours of your church, the first thing you should do is take a look at your current arrangements and try and understand why they are in place. They may have arisen from a one-off incident, or through lack of knowledge about the actual likelihood of risk. They may have been in place for years, and be genuinely believed to be the only way (sometimes because of the misplaced conception that it is required by insurance). There is useful information on the Ecclesiastical Insurance website.

The best thing that you can do is start the discussion. Gather together all the data you can and perhaps even get your local insurance representative to visit the church and talk to your management committee or volunteers and dispel any fears.

Work together to create a plan which is agreeable to all parties, and stick to it. And, very importantly, keep a record of visitors, to show those who weren’t sure just how many people use the building for genuine reasons once you have opened it to them.

Metal Theft

The current high demand for raw materials has seen an increase in the theft of metal, typically lead, copper and steel. Churches are particularly vulnerable to this type of crime and a lead roof can often be a desirable target for a thief. Because many roofs are not visible from the ground the damage caused by a theft can remain undetected for some time and lead to major problems with water ingress to the building.

In recent years heritage and church organisations have campaigned hard to encourage Government to tackle some of the issues surrounding metal theft. As a result, the Scrap Metal Dealers' Bill was passed in February 2013. It has the full support of the trade and law enforcement agencies. It outlawed the payment of cash for scrap metal by recyclers. The law also requires every scrap metal dealer responsible for obtaining a licence to trade from their local authority.

Several organisations have produced very useful guidance on metal theft, which can be of great help to churches under threat or who have already been targeted. There is a growing understanding of the emotional, social and financial cost that metal theft imposes on congregations.

Your insurance company will have advice on prevention and suggest security measures that can be taken to deter thieves and, sadly, if necessary, on how to make a claim.

The National Heritage Bodies have published guidance on metal theft from church buildings. It is in two parts: the first offers advice for congregations on the significance of lead, how to protect it, and how to respond to thefts; the second offers detailed practical information about the replacement of roofs including the use of appropriate alternative materials for historic church roofs.

There is further information available on heritage crime on the websites listed below.

Keeping yourself, your volunteers and visitors safe is mostly a case of using common sense.

Be aware of when you might be vulnerable, such as being in the church alone, opening and locking up after an event, counting or banking collection money or perhaps just being very busy in the building and unaware of what is going on around you.

Real life threats to your personal safety are very rare, but there are simple steps you can take to minimise the risks. People may have followed the same practices for years without anything happening, but a quick reassessment is always worthwhile.

You should:

  • Look for any situations when there may be a risk to personal safety
  • Establish what the risk is
  • Think about and put in place measures to minimise the risk
  • This might include making sure that:
    • no one is in your church alone when it is open
    • all staff / volunteers have a mobile phone on them
    • a list of emergency contacts is on your notice board or inside the church

Your insurance company will be the best source of advice for how to keep safe those who are undertaking tasks alone in or around your church building. Ecclesiastical Insurance has useful information on its website.

Specialist church insurers, Ecclesiastical, have estimated that 28 churches a year are seriously damaged by arson attacks. The community and financial impact of any church fire is huge, and especially difficult at a time when many churches are already struggling. But there are some simple steps that could save your place of worship from this terrible fate. 

  • Keep your church secure
  • Report suspicious activity and encourage use of church buildings
  • Practice good housekeeping
  • Carry out regular external inspections of your church buildings and grounds
  • Repair any criminal damage to the church building immediately
  • Be prepared for fire
  • Check your fire extinguishers