Setting up a friends group
Historic buildings need an enormous amount of care and maintenance. They also need champions, people to encourage their use, and promote their existence.
Churches, chapels and meeting houses are generally cared for and managed by volunteers (with input from clergy, where they are in office). They receive no government funding (unless they receive project specific grant funding), and rely heavily on voluntary donations.
There are many skills that exist in the communities around your church. Whether it is making tea or filling in funding applications, writing newsletters, cutting the grass or organising an event such as an art exhibition - these are all important if churches are to remain vibrant part of the future of a community, and a symbol of its rich heritage.
All churches need friends, and they are out there ready to be made.
In 2014 we have developed a toolkit to help you set up a Friends (or similar) Group for your church, chapel or meeting house. It is intended to guide you through the process, and includes thinking about who might be involved, formalising your structure, and what your group might do.
Part of the toolkit is a unique template constitution for groups with an income of less than £5000. Approved by the Charity Commission, HMRC and the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is a great way to formalise your small group.
There are now other sources of advice on setting up a Friends group including the following:
Registering as a charity
You will only need to register with the Charity Commission if your annual income exceeds £5000. If you have an annual income less than £5000 you may apply directly to HMRC for an HMRC Charity Number and qualify for a range of tax exemptions and reliefs. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the legislation is slightly different, with no £5000 threshold. In both those countries you will need to register as a charity.
HMRC Charities section has recently set up a new dedicated Outreach Team to offer help and support to charities to enable them to get things right first time.
Charity Commission for England and Wales: setting up a charity
Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator: becoming a charity
Charity Commission for Northern Ireland: start up a charity
HMRC: charities outreach team
Inspiration and information
There are several active and successful friends groups around the country, as well as advice from a number of organisations. Make the most of their experience by exploring their websites.