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Keeping churches open and in use

Keeping churches open and in use

A £3.6 million investment in our grants scheme by the Government's Heritage Stimulus Fund means that 32 more historic churches and meeting houses are safe for the future. It is a great example of a project that helps keep churches open and in good repair.

Working closely with Historic England, our expert knowledge and excellent contacts with churches meant that we were able to fast track these really important grants to places of worship with urgent repair needs. One of the great outcomes of the funding is that it will help remove nine churches from the Heritage at Risk Register.

Two rounds of funding

We received two rounds of funding. The first, in November 2021 helped 15 places of worship, including Quaker Meeting Houses and buildings belonging to the Church of England and the United Reformed Church.

A second round of funding, awarded in February 2022, kept 17 more historic churches safe for future and provided a funding uplift to churches benefiting from the first round of funding.

The support of Historic England and of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been tremendously important. Thank you.

Find out more

  • Watch our webinar about the impact of the Heritage Stimulus Fund for churches across the UK, hosted by journalist and broadcaster Rosie Dawson.
  • There is a Case Studies booklet which examines five of the projects in detail - if you'd like to receive a printed copy please contact us
  • You can also watch our specially commissioned films which tell the stories of some of these amazing churches and the work which has taken place to keep them open for the future.

How we are helping from Cornwall to Durham

BEDFORDSHIRE - St Mary Virgin, Northill. Dating from the 13th century and including a set of six bells, this Grade I Listed church received a grant of £98,558 to fund the relaying of lead and associated timber repairs to roofs to make the building watertight.

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE - St Michael & All Angels, Hughenden, Buckinghamshire. A £88,751 grant funded urgent repairs to the tower of the Grade II* Listed church. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

CAMBRIDGESHIRE - St Mary the Virgin, Gamlingay, Cambridgeshire A £229,576 grant funded roof repairs, repairs to windows and improvements to the building. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk Register.

CAMBRIDGESHIRE - St Mary the Virgin, Leighton Bromswold. Containing one of the most complete sets of Jacobean pews and woodwork in England, this Grade I Listed church received a grant of £79,128 to fund urgent repairs to the Nave, north transept and porch roofs.

CORNWALL - St Anietus, St Neot, Cornwall. A £39,079 grant  funded urgent stonework repairs, safeguarding historic stained glass at the Grade I Listed medieval church.

CORNWALL - Friends Meeting House, Marazion, Cornwall. A £68,652 grant helped fund urgent repairs to the roof, floor and heating of the Grade II* Listed building, the oldest purpose built Meeting House in Cornwall.

CORNWALL - St Stephen the Martyr, Launceston, Cornwall. A £298,023 grant funded urgent repairs to the roof of the Grade I Listed church, which dates from the 13th century. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

COUNTY DURHAM - St Chad, Bensham, County Durham. A £255,028 grant helped fund major repairs to the roof of the Grade II* Listed building, built in the Arts and Crafts style.

CUMBRIA - Friends Meeting House, Kendal, Cumbria, A £446,650 grant helped fund urgent repairs to the roof of the Grade II* Listed building.

CUMBRIA - St John, Workington, Cumbria . A £174,576 grant funded urgent repairs to historic windows to the Grade II* Listed church. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

DEVONSt Lawrence, Bigbury, Exeter. A £132,708 grant funded urgent repairs to the tower and spire to address rainwater ingress at the Grade II* listed building. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

DORSET - St Martin, Cheselbourne, Dorset. A £16,771 grant funded re-roofing in terne coated stainless steel of the Grade I Listed church following lead theft. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

HAMPSHIRE - St Andrew, Rockbourne. Founded in the 11th century, this Grade I Listed church is set on a hill with fine views across a valley. It received a grant of £73,737 to fund urgent tower repairs involving removing the entire roof and then either replacing or restoring it prior to reassembly.

HAMPSHIRE - Newport Minster, Newport, Isle of Wight, Hampshire. A £612,534 grant funded urgent roof and stonework repairs at this the Grade I church. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

HEREFORDSHIRE - St Deinst, Llangarron. The church is dedicated to St Deinst, a Celtic saint who died in 584. Rebuilt in the 15th century, this Grade I Listed church received a grant of £32,680 to fund urgent repairs to masonry which will make the building watertight.

HEREFORDSHIRE - St Michael and All Angels, Croft. A £40,388 grants funded roof, masonry and gutter repairs to the Grade I Listed church which dates from the 14th century. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

KENT - St Andrew, Wickhambreaux. Dating from the 14th century, this Grade I Listed church includes much fine stained glass including a sumptuous Art Nouveau window by Arild Rosenkrantz, which may be the first work by an American glass painter in Europe. It received a grant of £125,122 to fund urgent roof repairs to make the church watertight.

KENT - St Botolph, Chevening. One of the most important church buildings in the Diocese of Rochester, containing exceptional monuments in its Stanhope Chapel, this Grade I Listed church received a grant of £42,036 to fund urgent roof repairs to prevent rainwater damage.

LEICESTERSHIREHoly Trinity, Norton Juxta Twycross, Leicestershire. A £71,626 grant funded urgent repairs to the roof and to rainwater goods of the Grade II* Listed church. The work will help remove the church from the Heritage at Risk register.

LEICESTERSHIRE - St Mary Magdalene, Peckleton. Dating from the 14th century, this Grade I Listed church has excellent acoustics and has played hosts to many concerts. It received a grant of £25,000 to fund urgent stone and roof repairs.

LEICESTERSHIRE - St Philip and St James, Ratby. This Grade II* Listed church was built between the 13th and 15th centuries. The tower houses eight bells, the oldest of which was installed in 1367. It received a grant of £26,108  to fund urgent repairs to the stonework of the tower.

LINCOLNSHIRE - St James, Skillington. A £36,168  grant funded urgent repairs to the roof following lead theft in order to prevent further rainwater ingress and to halt the rapid deterioration of the church fabric and internal materials of the Grade I listed building.

LINCOLNSHIRE - St Mary, Marshchapel. A spectacularly beautiful building, completed in around 1420, Grade I Listed St Mary's church is known as 'The Cathedral of the Marshes'. It received a grant of £36,168 to fund urgent repairs to gutters and masonry and plaster repairs.

NORFOLK - Holy Trinity, Caister. Standing just a few hundred yards from Caister's Roman fort, this Grade II* Listed church received a grant of £95,867 to fund urgent repairs to the vestry to make the historic building watertight.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE - St Mary the Virgin, Badby. Dating from the 14th century, this Grade II* Listed church received a grant of £70,778 to fund urgent roof and tower repairs to make the building sound from water damage.

NORTHAMPTONSHIRE - All Saints, Northampton. A £70,000 grant funded urgent repairs to the roof and stonework to prevent water ingress. The nave, chancel, north and south aisles of the Grade II* Listed church date from the early 14th century.

OXFORDSHIRE - St Mary, Cogges (near Witney). Originating as an Anglo Saxon structure, this Grade I Listed church received a grant of £118,680 to fund urgent roof repairs to make the historic building watertight.

SUFFOLKSt Andrew, Rushmere. The original building was a medieval church built in the 12th century. During the 20th century the building has been extended to cater for much larger congregations arising from the building of Rushmere housing estate and the extension of the outer perimeter of Ipswich. The Grade II* Listed church received a grant of £41,746 to retile the roof.

SUFFOLK - St Mary, Homersfield. Retaining original Norman elements, this Grade II* Listed church received a grant of £68,389 to fund urgent roof repairs and work on the tower and interior walls.

WILTSHIRE - St Mary the Virgin, Steeple Ashton. Filling the visitor with awe and wonder, this Grade II* Listed church includes magnificent vaulting and was built in the late Middle Ages to replace an earlier church, the tower of which remains. It received a grant of £40,362 to fund urgent repairs to the tower to safeguard its historic fabric.

WORCESTERSHIRE - St Mary, Kyre Wyard. Housing the Geneva bible, printed in 1578 and one of the most significant translations of the Bible into English, this Grade II* Listed church received a grant of £18,662 to fund urgent repairs to its historic windows.

YORKSHIRE - Saltaire United Reformed Church, Saltaire, Yorkshire. A £61,389 grant helped fund urgent repairs to the tower to prevent water getting into the Grade I Listed church. It is one of the nation's most precious Victorian architectural gems.

(Please note that final grant amounts may change)

See the 32 churches and meeting houses we have helped...

Watch our Heritage Stimulus Fund Special Report videos

A deep dive: explore in detail through case studies from five of the churches we helped

Find out more about five of the Heritage Stimulus Fund projects and watch our specially commissioned films that tell their stories.

Kendal Friends Meeting House

When the Kendal Friends Meeting House was built in 1816, as many as 10 per cent of Kendal's inhabitants were Quakers, and among them were many of the thriving town’s most prosperous merchants, notes Chris Skidmore, author of Quakers and Their Meeting Houses.

Watch the video here

In addition, explains Quaker historian Chris Bullard, Kendal Quakers opened and funded an early Soup Kitchen (in the first two months after its opening in 1830 records show it made nearly 7,000 gallons) and a “people’s dispensary” to enable the poor to access medical care.

A few years ago, when Quakers in the Lake District towns of Kendal and Sedbergh realised a few years ago that the roof of their most prominent Meeting House needed repairs, local worshippers and trustees of the museum that shares the premises raised around £200,000.

In addition, the National Churches Trust offered them £132,000 of funding from the Heritage Stimulus Fund (HSF). But the scale of the project grew and costs soared above £650,000, because of delays due to lockdowns, the loss of income from the temporary closure of the popular Quaker Tapestry Museum, and a serious issue that became apparent when the roof was removed.

Kendal Friends Meeting House hosts three weekly meetings for worship, as well as meetings with other local Quaker houses, and a varied social education programme for all-comers. More than 100 organisations, including local authorities, charities and support groups, also make use of the building’s meeting rooms for workshops, community events, group meetings, training and counselling sessions and other gatherings. The Meeting House also hosts ecumenical events with the other local churches.

Finest Georgian buildings in Cumbria

The 200-year-old Grade II* listed Meeting House, which was designed to seat up to 850 people, is widely considered one of the finest Georgian buildings in Cumbria. But the much-loved building was in greater disrepair than its many users realised.

The building’s damp problems were known about. For years staff had been emptying dehumidifiers in the rafters every few days to get rid of huge amounts of condensation; mould patches had appeared in an upstairs classroom, causing concern among the groups who hired the space.

So in 2019 the museum and local Quakers launched an appeal to fund repairs to the roof. Then the pandemic hit, and fundraising went towards making up the income lost through the museum’s temporary closure. The emergence of the HSF scheme was welcome news, but grants came with short deadlines: the museum and local Quakers received an indication of approval of an HSF grant of £132,000 in September 2021, and the money had to be spent by the end of March 2022. Similarly, the listed buildings consent depended on the work being completed before bats that had been found there might start roosting again in the autumn.

A major setback awaited. Once contractors removed the slates, just before Christmas 2021, they found that the walls were inadequately tied to the roof timbers, a problem far beyond the Quakers’ budget to put right. But the local Quakers and the museum were committed to the work, and carried on approaching trusts and individuals for support.

The main source of help was Historic England’s administered Heritage Stimulus Fund. “Historic England kept finding more money and passing it to National Churches; we were really grateful for that,” says Ros Batchelor, a trustee of the museum. “The increased support via National Churches Trust has been absolutely critical to achieving the project.” As for the March deadline, “the builders got along amazingly well and by the end of March they had done 70 per cent of the increased contracted work,” she adds.

A game changer

Andrew Smith, treasurer of the Kendal and Sedbergh Area Quaker Meeting, agrees that the additional funding from the National Churches Trust was a game-changer. He stresses: “Without the [HSF] grant, we would have been in an impossible position: the contract had started; you can't stop work on our reroof because you haven't got enough money to pay the builder. If we had said, “Well, we have to stop,” we would have been left with an unprotected building, which would have been a disaster.”

Today the reroof is finished, the building is watertight and secure, and the many activities that go on under its roof can continue safely. Jenny Pearman, clerk of the Kendal Quaker meeting, reflects: “It would be really difficult to see how without our building, we could operate in quite that widespread way, offering that range of activities.”

Already, those with responsibility for the building are planning for its future. The museum, with funding from the local Quaker Meeting, have, with listed building consent, discreetly installed 22 solar panels on the newly repaired roof to make the building more financially and ecologically sustainable.

 Anna Williams, the contract administrator said:

"When I did a detailed roof survey for the Friends Meeting House I found widespread slate slippage and a non-breathable underfelt under the tiles, so horrific amounts of condensation were starting to rot the timbers. We concluded that the only way to tackle the slate slippage and add ventilation was to fully re-slate the roof. And while the slate was off, we would also replace all the lead work. 

But when we took the slates and the lead work off, we found that the cast iron cramps that had held in place the stonework around the perimeter of the roof had rusted away: there was nothing restraining huge overhanging sections of stone. Also, during some previous repairs, masonry had been taken out that was critical to supporting the stonework. 

Rotting timbers

We were determined to right the wrongs.

We put a tented scaffold over the building and when Storm Arwen hit in November 2021, it barely budged an inch. Knowing the building was protected underneath the scaffold gave us time to find proper structural solutions for replacing rotting timbers and for tying back the stonework. 

The HSF made an enormous difference. If we hadn’t had that funding stream, if they'd only had a fixed sum, that scaffold would still be up and they would be in serious trouble. The work was absolutely essential, there were no cheap solutions. We wanted to put on a roof that would last at least 100 years. And I’m confident that the work we’ve done there will be good for at least another 100 years.” 

Find out more about Kendal Friends Meeting House


St Lawrence, Bigbury, Devon

Every historic church tells its own story and quickly becomes part of the story of those whose lives it touches. St Lawrence, Bigbury, on the south coast of Devon, is no exception.

Watch the video here

Watchmen in the 16th century used the church’s tower as a lookout, and would have seen the invading Spanish Armada snaking east. Sailors in the 17th century looked for the church’s spire to navigate across the bay. Today, for Harry Bardon, captain of the bell tower, the most treasured aspect of the church is the peal of its bells.

Harry’s father is buried in the church graveyard. “At 92, the time is coming close when I shall be buried up here as well,” says Harry, who is Captain of the Bell tower. “I'd like to hear Bigbury bells ringing again before that happens.”

The six bells have not rung for over 20 years. The odd one has tolled for a funeral, but their melodious peal exists only in memory. Bell-ringing stopped after Harry reported concerns about the tower to the PCC in 2002, and the Diocese of Exeter officially closed the structure in 2007. Sea air had corroded the tower’s iron frame.

Plantlife in the ringing chamber

Added to that, rainwater had seeped into the spire and the tower, damaging walls, flooring and pews. Moisture in the ringing chamber clouded over an internal window that looked out into the nave. Looking through the pane from the nave, “You’d see plantlife growing in the ringing chamber … weeds growing,” recalls Revd Matt Rowland, rector of the Modbury benefice, which includes St Lawrence’s.

The damage was of huge concern. “I was quite shocked about the condition of the bell frame and the condition of the tower,” says architect Julie Boultby, who worked on the project. “Water was just pouring into the walls.”

A colossal task lay ahead, yet among the congregation of around 20 there was a fear that it was too big an undertaking.

Jill Gubbins, who lives locally and whose parents are buried in the churchyard, got to work. She organised cream teas, harvest lunches, a reception and raffle at the nearby hotel, and “umpteen musical events”, and raised about £10,000. Local businesses pitched in and together contributed about £14,000.

Jill’s husband Vic, a PCC member, set about applying for grants. They attracted around £25,000 but applying for National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2020 proved dispiriting. The process “took a lot of time and effort,” says Vic, and when Covid struck “the fund closed for new applicants. Post-Covid, the fund reopened but all requests had to be resubmitted, reflecting the revised criteria for application.”

The National Lottery Heritage Fund was now asking for more “people-orientated results”, but, explains Jill, “we haven't got a toddlers group or a Mothers’ Union,” and adds that the young families buying properties locally tend to be second-home-owners.

Desperate to get the project moving, Vic suggested to Jill that they offer up to £50,000 of their own savings it if it could be match-funded over summer 2021. Donations trickled in, then in the last few weeks, she recalls, “everybody decided to put their hands in their pockets, and we got £51k.”

With more than £100,000 collected, the first phase – repointing of the tower and spire – could start. (Jill stresses she and her husband are not “super-rich”.) Add to that a grant of £132,000 from the National Churches Trust, funded by the Government's Heritage Stimulus Fund, and the project was safely under way.

Everything needed refurbishment

The bell frame had to be removed, and all the bells and the ceilings: the vestry ceiling and the belfry floor,” explains Boultby. “Everything needed refurbishing in the tower … a complete overhaul.”

Inside St Lawrence’s, the difference the repointing has made is tangible. “It feels drier [and] you can now see into the ringing chamber,” says Rowlands. Without the grant from the National Churches Trust, he says ever-worsening water damage “would just be a huge distraction,” but now, “we can move on to other areas of the building but also move on with our local mission and ministry.”

Meanwhile in February 2022 the bells were taken to a specialist firm in Dorset, where they have been undergoing a major process of cleaning, retuning and rehanging on a new frame.

Already a team of trainee bellringers has assembled and is practising at a nearby church while they wait for their own bells to return. (Although Harry is still captain and it is hoped he’ll ring once they’re back, he has been sitting out the rehearsals.) The team needed to be ready for the Ring for the King initiative on 6 May, the coronation of King Charles III. Not to mention weekly services, summer weddings and Christmas and New Year celebrations.

“We're all mighty grateful for the fact that the National Churches Trust did come through with the Heritage Stimulus Fund money,” says Jill. Rural and coastal churches with smaller congregations have fewer ways of building up support, because they may not match other criteria for grants, she argues, and she wishes the Church of England would provide some cash to maintaining buildings. “I’m not overly religious,” she says, but stresses, “churches like ours are still very important parts of our community.”

Andrew Nicholson, managing director of Nicholson Engineering said:

“There are six bells – five were cast in 1788 and the smallest one was cast in 1879. They were pretty filthy, so we’ve cleaned them and done a little conservation work. Everything’s been shot-blasted so we’ve removed the dirt and verdigris (corrosion). When we take them back they will look spotlessly clean and the outside will have a new graphite coating.”

“The main problem was the bell frame, the steelwork. It was put in in around 1960 and given no protection, so the steelwork had just rusted away and this had become dangerous. All the ringing fittings were in desperate need of an overhaul. It’s very unusual to have a bell frame rust away that quickly; it was probably done to a price. The new steelwork will all be hot-dip galvanised and powder-coated, so that will protect against corrosion. “

“We’re had to make all new oak wheels (the wheels the bells hang off, that are 4’-5’ in diameter); the old ones had effectively fallen to pieces. The work took longer than expected partly because of having to make new wheels, and partly because of Covid-related absences. “

“We design our equipment with a minimum of a 100-year life. And the bell frame should last for hundreds of years now. “

Find out more about St Lawrence, Bigbury

Bigbury, St Lawrence church

St Mary, Marshchapel,  Lincolnshire

It is traditionally referred to as “the Cathedral of the Marshes” and hailed as a fine example of ornate Perpendicular architecture. But until recently the Grade-I listed church of St Mary, Marshchapel in Lincolnshire was scarred by damp patches on two of its fifteenth-century walls, and a strong musty smell hung in the air.

Watch the video here

A grant of £36,168 from the Heritage Stimulus Fund (HSF) provided by the National Churches Trust has enabled the church’s congregation to finish vital repairs and restoration work, which has made the church safe and attractive for the future.

“You should have seen those walls before, with all the plaster coming off. People always mentioned it, [saying] ‘It’s getting worse and worse,’” recalls Christel Henderson, one of the church wardens. The moisture was causing the limewash and plaster to peel off and it “was absolutely soaking,” she says. But it wasn’t just the walls that were affected. “The mess on the floor! That limey stuff sticks. Every day I had to come and clean it up because it was just flaking off from the wall,” she adds.

St Mary’s was suffering from rainwater damage: decades-old asphalt gutter linings in the roof were wearing through, allowing moisture to seep into the church’s ancient walls.

The church is central to the life of the isolated village it serves, despite a dwindling congregation. It is open every day of the year and holds its weddings and funerals, its harvest festivals and carol services. It also acts as a concert venue, an exhibition space, a centre of heritage and a destination for visitors.

The Sunday congregation, a dedicated group of a dozen or so Anglicans and Methodists, worship alternately at St Mary’s and in the local Methodist chapel. They cover their running costs with an annual cycle of fundraising events. But these had been cancelled during the pandemic and the water damage was far more than the church could afford to put right.

They raised £28,000, helped largely by a legacy from a former vicar, which paid for new, durable stainless steel guttering. In addition, the HSF grant for just over £36,000 paid for the scaffolding, the internal re-plastering, and the re-securing of some loose stonework on the roof.

Cleaner and dryer

The change is tangible. Already the damp smell is gone and the air inside the building is cleaner and dryer. Henderson only has to remove dust from the pews. “It's all dry and wonderful. There's no problem at all, no water coming in,” she smiles.

The reduced moisture level inside the church will also help to conserve the building’s “hero items” – carved wooden angels in the chancel roof, a 15th century rood screen, and 134 poppyheads, each unique, carved into the end of each pew by a local carpenter in the 19th century.

Without the HSF funding the local community would have been able to fund the repairs to the gutters, but not the internal restoration. The unsightly damp patches and smell would have continued, making the church ever an ever less attractive option for its local, regional and even international visitors.

It's so special

St Mary’s takes part in the Lincolnshire Wolds & Coast Churches Festival each September, one of the 150 churches or so that opens its doors to the public. They also participate in the popular annual Ride and Stride day when hikers and cyclists are encouraged to make a day of visiting a number of historical rural churches. The building’s history stretches back eight centuries and the church’s visitors’ book is full of Americans and Australians who have come to research their family history.

The church’s temporary closure during the first Covid lockdown gave the village a taste of life without St Mary’s. Olivia Hurton, the other church warden, said: “People didn’t meet and we all missed each other. We are a very caring community, we look after each other, but with the church shut we didn’t get the chance to be together and do so.”

Instead, the restoration work has halted the church’s gradual decay and enabled it to continue enriching the social, cultural and spiritual life of the village. Henderson reflects: “If the church would ever close, the village would be devastated. We haven’t got a big congregation but the church is well-loved. She adds: “When you walk into the church, you’re so in awe, because it’s such a small village, such a big church. It’s just so special.”

Keeping churches alive

Trevor Oliver, principal contractor, was one of the key people involved in the restoration work.

"The gutters had leaked for a long time, and inside the church you’d see limewash and plaster coming off the south aisle wall and the south wall of the chancel, from the damp that had come in. It was unsightly and there was a smell. So we changed the gutters from the asphalt that had been put there in the 1970s or 80s, to stainless steel, which lasts longer."

"The project went well considering the time constraints: the work was delayed twice last autumn by Covid and some strong storms, and by the time we were able to start, the costs had risen. So then the PCC were looking for a grant. "

"If the damp had been allowed to get worse, the pews in the south aisle and the wooden floors under them would have been damaged. The building wouldn’t be looking as good as it could, it would have had a certain atmosphere – you wouldn’t want it for weddings or other events. The decoration of it makes a huge difference, so repairing of what has caused the damage in the first place is very important."

"I work on a lot of Lincolnshire churches and to me it's important to keep them alive – they’re a huge part of our heritage – and the skills as well. I started a new business last year, training people in heritage skills."

Find our more about St Mary's Church, Marshchapel


St Mary, Cogges

St Mary’s Cogges is a 900-year-old church nestled in the heart of Oxfordshire. It is also the spiritual home of a thriving mix of worshippers whose numbers have grown in the last ten years, says vicar Rev Simon Kirby.

Watch the video here

As a result, the church hosts two Sunday services, one traditional and one informal (a third takes place in a school hall). The building “allows … us to be a church with a variety of worship styles to reach a variety of people in our community”.

Midweek, the church is also used for a mums’ and toddlers’ group and youth work, and also hosts community activities at Christmas and runs special services for the nearby Blake Primary School, including “Year 1 weddings” – a curious tradition in which local six-year-olds learn about weddings by dressing up as bride, groom or vicar. 

However, the Grade I-listed limestone building was in urgent need of repair. Dry rot had crept into the roof timbers and on a rainy day, water would drip in. Regulars knew only “there were two particular chairs you wanted to avoid,” says Rev Kirby. The roof, he stresses, “had the potential to fall down.”

The building was suffering the after-effects of the theft of some of its lead a generation ago. Zoe Stubbs, the church’s conservation building surveyor, said when the lead that should have kept the building watertight was stolen around 30 years ago, the church could not get funding to replace it. “Aluminium was placed over the top of the roof timbers as an emergency repair,” she said, but this “was now coming to the end of its life and letting water in”. 

To repair the roof, which is in two sections, the congregation raised £250,000 and won some small grants. In addition, the National Churches Trust provided the main grant of almost £120,000  from the Heritage Stimulus Fund (HSF) - almost half the cost of repairing the larger section of roof, which covers the nave.

A watertight building

The HSF grant was vital: having raised the money for repairing the first section, the church’s funds were sorely depleted. Rev Kirby stresses: “Had we not got the [HSF] grant for the roof, it would have used every single penny of reserves and potentially, we wouldn’t be able to do some of the outreach we do. It’s allowed us to continue to do the ministry as well as now have a watertight building.”  

“It’s a building that’s reinvented itself several times according to local need,” observes longtime parishioner Elizabeth Knowles. “Over the centuries St Mary’s Cogges has developed architecturally, and changed its fixtures and fittings best to reflect the liturgical tastes and understanding of the day,” she explains.

Families too have left their mark, especially the successive wealthy families that owned the nearby Cogges Manor Farm, for centuries a major local employer. (Its 18th century buildings became Yewtree Farm for ITV’s Downton Abbey.) One family was the Blake family, founders in the 17th century of the Blake School, which still has close links with St Mary’s. “When the Blakes had the manor, they installed a big memorial and put it right over the window,” she notes.

Over the moon

A celebration to mark the church’s reopening, postponed after the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, offered tours of the roof and a treasure hunt for children. “We're celebrating the fact that ministry has taken place for 900 years and can continue to take place in the building,” says Kirby. “Within our church there are some who are very fond of the building and … are absolutely delighted and over the moon” that the repairs have been completed.

The church are making the most of the completed repairs to invite people to discover the building’s long story. Knowles has produced new leaflets that offer visitors a guided tour. Hikers pop in, as do visitors to the Manor Farm, people with historic personal connections to Cogges, and those looking for a quiet church in which to sit and reflect.  

Knowles is a retired editor if the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and she says the quote that best sums up the church’s story is “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same), by the French novelist and journalist Alphonse Karr. For all St Mary’s development over the centuries, “the message it carries is constant and unchanging,” she says. “It was founded as a church to minister to the community around it, and it still serves its community today.”

Knowles adds: “It’s something we’ve received from the congregations of the past and we will hand on to the future, so we have to make decisions now for the people who will be here after us.”

Zoe Stubbs, conservation building surveyor said:

"Once you've taken the roof off, you can more clearly see what’s there. We think we found an area where a bell was originally hung, from an early phase prior to 1103 and before the tower was added in 1350. And while one of the team was repairing a timber we found some graffiti that said “1870”, which identifies when the roof structure was last repaired.

Analyse the future

We found evidence in the stonework and roof structure of at least four phases of change to the church, and each phase has left its mark on the previous one. When the craftsmen adjusted the roof, they adapted what they needed and retained the earlier phases. We don’t know the dates of these phases but we photographed and kept the evidence in situ, for a historian to analyse in the future. 

The community for this particular church works hard, and does a good job looking after their building. But buildings like this are terribly difficult to find funding for and need an awful lot of upkeep. So organisations like the National Churches Trust, they can apply to for funding and can be supported by, are a lifeline. Stained glass is easier to raise funds for because it’s pretty and visible, but roofs that keep a building watertight are essential."

Find out more about St Mary's Church, Cogges


Newport Minster, Newport, Isle of Wight, Hampshire

Newport Minster is the civic church of the Isle of Wight; it welcomes local dignitaries attending functions, as well as worshippers for services and school pupils for visits. Designated a minister in 2008, it hosts concerts and exhibitions: locals see it as their de facto cathedral.

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After the death of Queen Elizabeth II, some 2,000 people came to sign a book of condolence. Connections to royalty – two kings, a queen and a princess, have shaped the church’s more than 800-year history. Yet until recently, the Grade-I Listed building was on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register, which noted it was suffering from “slow decay”. A rainy forecast would set clergy hurrying to put buckets out down the main aisle to catch the drops. Rainwater had already damaged the organ.

Newport Minster was awarded a grant in 2021 for fabric repairs from the Heritage Stimulus Fund (HSF) by the National Churches Trust to make the building wind-and water-tight.

Work supported by the HSF included: stone repairs to the south and west elevations and parts of the tower, which had been badly eroded by the marine environment; glazing repairs to the south elevation windows, which were leaking and badly eroded; repairs to the roof and clerestory over the south aisle and south nave; and urgent repairs to two monuments inside the building.

Queen Victoria

Today’s Victorian building stands on the site of a twelfth-century church originally dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury, the archbishop murdered by Henry II’s henchmen in 1170, quickly venerated as a martyr and canonised by Pope Alexander III.  The new church’s foundation stone was laid by Prince Albert in 1854 and points to the church’s second royal connection: Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort encouraged the construction of the new church, and the Queen commissioned for it a lifesize white marble statue, for a princess whose remains had been buried – and for a while, lost – in the old church: Princess Elizabeth, the learnèd and pious daughter of Charles I.

The Queen called on the services of the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti to create a memorial for Elizabeth who lived as a prisoner of Parliament from the age of 6 and died at 14. The inscription beneath the statue explains the Queen commissioned the monument “as a token of respect for her virtues and of sympathy for her misfortunes”. According to Revd Emma Cooksey, team vicar of Newport and Carisbrooke, Queen Victoria also “had a say” in the positioning in “the brightest part of the church” the Princess Elizabeth Chapel, which houses the statue, on the north side of the high altar.

But no wealth of heritage guarantees immunity from decay. The statue’s white marble was fading under decades of grime, as was another memorial, to a former Isle of Wight Captain, Sir Edward Horsey. In addition, the roof and windows urgently needed attention.

Project manager Rosie Fraser explains: “Water was pouring through the ceiling in the south aisle – [to put] buckets out when it rained was fairly standard,” she says. Some windows had holes where people had thrown stones through the glass. Other windows suffered from the marine environment: sea winds had eroded some of the stonework, and the glass in eroded stone windows was at risk of falling out, she adds.

Urgent repairs

With funding from the Heritage Stimulus Fund awarded by the National Churches Trust, the team of multiple craftsmen (stone masons, builders, roofers and experts in restoring historic buildings) repaired the roof, repointed the south aisle, the west elevation and parts of the tower; relined gutters with lead where the original had become weakened or worn through; and repaired damaged windows. Urgent repairs to two monuments inside the building was also carried out.

Fraser adds: “We were planning on replacing one of the pinnacles on the building, but we discovered that one of the major windows on the west end was in a much worse condition.” The stonemason, Kevin Symonds, having ordered stone to carve a new pinnacle, instead turned his skills to remaking the top half of the ornate three-metre-high window, cutting back eroded tracery, carving new stone moulds and pinning the new pieces to the existing frame, ensuring the Victorian leaded glass is once again securely in place.

Preparing for the work to the exterior proved a colossal task, requiring every available piece of scaffolding on the island – and more. The rest of the scaffolding came “over on the ferry, same as everything else,” smiles Rev Cooksey.

Cooksey says the HSF grant has made a “huge” difference, covering more than three-quarters of the costs of the project. A private benefactor had offered a large donation but reduced his pledge due to factors related to the pandemic. “At one point it looked as though [the project] wouldn’t be happening at all,” says Cooksey. But cancelling the works would have made a subsequent phase of internal improvements impossible, because the building needed to be watertight before they could go ahead. “Then the National Churches Trust  came along and said, ‘We could help you out there.’ It was very good that they could. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to complete it without them.”

It looks absolutely beautiful

Having the repairs completed and the church watertight “means that the building is now off the Heritage At Risk register, which is a huge relief,” she adds. “We are the custodians of it … it makes such a difference to know that it’s safe now.” The minster’s many civic and religious events can go ahead without the need for buckets or risk of slippery floors; the building and its remarkable contents are safeguarded for the future. She says the minster “used to look slightly bedraggled,” but since the repairs “it looks absolutely beautiful.”

Separate work supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund is taking place to revitalise the church, with internal improvements making it more accessible to the local community. The wider project has been in planning for a few years, with substantial consultation to ensure that the newly revitalised church meets the needs of the local community.

Rachel Lawson, site manager and senior conservator said:

“The statue of Princess Elizabeth had not been cleaned for about 100 years. The actual effigy of her, which is made of Carrera marble, was relatively clean in comparison to the surrounding limestone plinth. Two electric lights inside the niche she is lying in made her look cleaner than she was. The effigy still required a light surface clean and for this we used a “V and A mix” – an aqueous cleaning material devised at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which worked well. We then used a small steam cleaner to remove any residues. 

Electric candles

There was wax on her head and down the right side of the plinth she is lying on – I think the story is that Queen Victoria specified that a candle had to burn by the corner of the statue, almost like a shrine. Wax is an oily substance that stains the stone and penetrates into the pores; it took us a long time to remove it. We recommended that in future perhaps an electric candle could be used instead.

"It’s a carving that’s beautiful in its simplicity. We did find Horsey more interesting – he was a bit of a rogue and had a more of a story behind him. On his statue, which is Elizabethan, you can see fragments of the original reds and blues – he probably would have been very garish to look at. But I think more people are drawn to Elizabeth, because she’s quietly there, just lit up."   

Find out more about Newport Minster

Exterior of Newport Minster
Bill Henderson

Heritage Stimulus Fund

  • 3.6 £m of financial support

    From the Heritage Stimulus Fund

  • 32 Grade I, II and II*

    Listed churches and meeting houses helped to stay open

  • 9 churches

    Will be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register

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