Diversity - helping churches, chapels and meeting houses today

Published: Friday, May 16, 2014


Delegates from 26 County Churches Trusts took part in the 2014 Churches Trusts Forum Annual Conference.

The  2014 Churches Trusts Forum Annual Conference was held at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, London WC2 on Thursday 15 May 2014. The conference was organised and administered with the support of the National Churches Trust.

Under the theme of 'Diversity - helping churches, chapels and meeting houses today', the conference started with words of welcome from Sarah de Rohan of the Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust and Luke March, Chairman of the National Churches Trust. Both stressed the vital work being carried out by County Churches Trusts in caring for churches,  chapels and meeting houses. They also noted the importance of sharing best practice between County Churches Trusts and of working together with the National Churches Trust on matters of common concern.

During lunch, delegates heard about the history and mission of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church from Faith Bowers. Originally opened as Bloomsbury Chapel, the church opened on 5 December 1848, the first Baptist chapel to stand proudly on a London street, visibly an ‘ecclesiastical edifice’. 

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church

(Powerpoint presentations from the conference can be found at the bottom of this webpage)

The Good Society Project

Zoe van Zwanenberg, from the Good Society Project of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland,  opened the conference morning session with a keynote presentation about church-based and faith groups’ contribution to society.

Faith plays a pivotal role in our society, she said. Many churches exist not as closed gatherings; but as communities with a deep concern for everyone living in their neighbourhood. A Good Society emerges as a place that re-builds the spirit by offering hope. It integrates different generations and faiths, and models healthy ways of living and being.

Church buildings, Zoe van Zwanenberg explained, are a sanctuary for creating a Good Society, being both holy places and  places of welcome for all. People are drawn to churches and other places of worship because they are safe places. The way in which churches share food with others and help people address isolation, depression, exclusion are all ways in which they create a Good Society.

A Good Society

SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project

How best to maintain church buildings was the subject of the second keynote presentation, given by Kate Streeter from the SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project. It was, she said, vital that church buildings are looked after by people from the whole community, not just the congregation. With very little training for volunteers working on church maintenance, she explained that the project's aim is to build capacity and promote best practice through creating an active network of local groups who can confidently and effectively carry out essential preventative maintenance at their local places of worship.

The project offers free training, online resources, access to professional advice and a sociable network of volunteers to share resources, skills and ideas. Participants will also be invited to the annual Maintenance Cooperatives Project conference each November as part of National Maintenance Week.

Five project areas are covered by the SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project

  • Herefordshire & Worcestershire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Cumbria
  • Dorset & Somerset
  • North East  

Places of worship which can take part don’t have to be old or listed to be involved, and can be used by any faith.

SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project

ITV Border News report on Cumbria Maintenance Co-operatives Project

 English Heritage

The third presentation, on the future of English Heritage and its role in caring for places of worship, was  given by Diana Evans, Head of Listed Places of Worship Advice, English Heritage. From 2015, the statutory and other support and advice division of English Heritage will become the responsibility of a new organisation called Historic England. English Heritage will continue to care for and run the outstanding historic places which help to explain England’s history.

Diana Evans said that Historic England would continue the work of English Heritage in prioritising help, support  and advice to places of worship and also to promote their value.   It was vital, she said,  that places of worship, some of England’s most important historic builidings, had the support of people who do not worship in them. Her view was that shared use and new uses would be key to safeguarding church buildings in the future.

She also outlined some of the projects involving places of worship that English Heritage is currently involved with. These include a Church Heritage Record database project which will provide the first comprehensive list of all Church of England churches.

Heritage Open Days

Completing a packed morning agenda was Sarah Holloway, the Heritage Open Days Coordinator, who outlined the way in which more places of worship could take part in Heritage Open Days and help to promote the Ride+Stride church fundraising event. Heritage Open Days, which celebrates England's fantastic architecture  and culture by offering free access to places that are usually closed to the public, take place from 11-14 September 2014, coinciding with Ride+Stride Saturday on 13 September.

Sarah Holloway outlined how it will be possible for churches, chapels and meeting houses taking part in Ride+Stride to feature the event on the Heritage Open Days website, making it easier for people to find out about this vital fundraising day. Highly visible welcome signs are also available to places of worship registering with  Heritage Open Days, making it easier for visitors to know that a church is welcoming visitors for Ride+Stride Saturday.

Sarah also suggested ways in which churches could maximise their appeal for visitors. Ideas included organ playing ‘taster sessions’, displays of vestments, graveyard tours and of course, tasty food and drink.

Heritage Open Days



Fundraising was the subject of two workshops held in the afternoon. Andrew Day, Director of  Compton Fundraising Consultants gave a range of advice on how to run fundraising campaigns and how to attract donors.  Chris Field from JustGiving outlined the key ways in which this online fundraising platform can be used by small charities. He was joined by Andy Hamfleet from AAM Associates who demonstrated the benefits of donating by text message.

St Giles in the Fields

After the end of the conference, delegates had an opportunity to visit St Giles in the Fields in Holborn, with its history and architecture explained by Rector William Jacob. The origins of the parish lie in the foundation in 1101 by Queen Matilda of a great hospital for the poor. The current church was designed in the 1730s by Henry Flitcroft, with the interior in the style of a Roman basilica.  The tour of the church concluded with a service of Evensong, held in the church’s vestry building, one of the few such buildings which still survives in London today.

Powerpoint Presentations



Compton Fundraising


The Good Society Project Powerpoint


SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project


Heritage Open Days


English Heritage