A group of people in hard hats and his-vis jackets stand outside of a church in Northern Ireland

Four things that made 2023 a year of opportunity for churches – and how we can build on them in 2024

By Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust


As 2023 draws to a close and we enter into a new year, you may feel a sense of excitement or perhaps anxiety over what 2024 will bring. There is no doubt that this year has been difficult for churches; there is no bigger issue facing the UK’s heritage than the future of our historic places of worship. But it’s not all doom and gloom. 

Here are four things that turned 2023 into a year of opportunity for churches and how we can build on them in 2024. 


One: a surprising offer 

At the start of the year, we were given an opportunity that would enable us to help save 18 churches in the UK that were struggling to see a way forward and were close to giving up. And it came completely out of the blue. 

An anonymous donor reached out and offered us a huge donation – of £500,000 – to help fund urgent repairs at these historic churches. We then set a goal of matching this generous gift, so that these churches could stay open and continue to serve their communities. 

This fund is not only going to make so much difference to these churches, but it will enable them to protect the precious heritage inside for generations to come too. 

"We are so grateful that we have this funding to help us replace our well-worn roof and protect our magnificent and special rood screen and preserve this site for generations to come," Reverend Kevin Hasler, Rector at St Aeddan's church in Bettws Newydd and Ministry Leader for the Diocese of Monmouth, shared with us. 

Being given a gift like this galvanised us as a charity and made us aim even higher with the support that we were offering churches.

Bettws Newydd St Aeddan Church from the outside
L M Prichard
Bettws Newydd St Aeddan in Monmouthshire, Wales/Cymru, is one of the many churches we've been able to help this year. Credit LM Pritchard


Two: knowing we’re not alone

As well as working with churches in the UK, we are pleased to continue to partner with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to deliver support to churches at a community level. This year, we both launched ambitious new strategies that commit to making sure that places of worship are valued, cared for and sustained for everyone, now and in the future. 

We are already running two exciting projects with the National Lottery Heritage Fund that you may have heard of: Treasure Ireland and Cherish

Treasure Ireland has been running for three years and this dedicated support has enabled us to help hundreds of churches in Northern Ireland already, as well as award more than 32 grants. And this year, the National Lottery Heritage Fund doubled their investment by awarding a further £248,200, so the project can continue for another three years.   

Strabane Church of the Immaculate Conception.

This is great news for churches across Northern Ireland, but it’s not the National Lottery’s only investment. 

In December 2022, they awarded us a grant of £1.9 million to widen the support we are able to offer places of worship in Scotland, Wales and the North West (Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester) through Cherish. In Autumn this year, three local support officers were appointed in these places and have already been able to visit churches, offer support and guidance and help them to apply for grants.  

RCCG King of Glory Church in Craigentinney, Edinburgh was one of the churches that Karen Hind, our Scotland Support Officer has been able to help with advice about applying for funding. Before the RCCG bought the church building in 2018, the building had been locked up for two years and wasn’t being used. In our latest round of grants, they were awarded £9,965 to help install a new kitchen and accessible toilet, so they can meet the growing demand of their church. 

“We are most delighted to receive the funding support from the National Churches Trust,” Rufai Adesola, minister, at RCCG King of Glory church, shared with us. “Our community is growing fast so we require more space to welcome people and this grant will enable us to achieve our vision and aims.” 

The outside of King of Glory Church, Edinburgh
National Churches Trust
RCCG King of Glory church in Edinburgh is one of the churches we are helping in Scotland through our dedicated support on offer. Credit: National Churches Trust


Three: never underestimating the resilience of churches  

I am always struck by the resilience of churches in the UK – their determination, against all odds, to keep their building open.  

It was an immense privilege this year to help judge the National Church Awards, our celebration of church buildings and volunteers. The nominations, but also the event itself, were a wonderful reminder of how churches are active in every part of the UK in using their buildings to bring communities together and in helping them to thrive. 

Our overall winner in the ‘Open for Visitors’ category – which shines a light on the brilliant welcome churches give to visitors from near and afar and for the creative and innovative ways they tell the church’s story to them – was Throwleigh Providence Methodist Chapel in Devon. 

The team at Throwleigh Methodist Chapel; the church won the Open For Visitors award at the National Church Awards this year. Credit: Simon Timms

The church had only four members a few years ago and faced closure. But a dedicated team of volunteers have turned this around. The small 19th century chapel in Dartmoor National Park launched a programme of free open days for the public every day in the spring, summer and autumn, and at weekends during the winter, which led to over 1,750 visitors in 2022 and gave the church a sustainable future. 

Through the open days, the local community have become Invigorated and engaged and now want monthly services again at the church!  


Four: continue to be inspired by the good works 

My work at the National Churches Trust involves me getting out and visiting churches across the UK in order to learn more about the challenges that volunteers and staff face in caring for them and how we can work with them to help keep their buildings open and in good repair. 

In the last few months alone, I have visited several churches of different denominations in Northern Ireland, a church in Newbury and many churches in Lancashire. 

A group of people stand outside a church in Northern Ireland
Nina McNeary/National Churches Trust
Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust with the Treasure Ireland Grants Committee in Northern Ireland. Credit: Nina McNeary/National Churches Trust

One of my favourite things about churches is that there is something in each church to find and enjoy. At St John’s church in Stockcross, Newbury, they have the most brilliant stained glass by Sir Ninian Comper. You can identify his work by looking for the tiny strawberry plant – usually in the bottom corner!  

Behind the scenes of each church, there are so many dedicated volunteers who are able to do simple yet effective things to keep the church open and serving the local community.  


Keeping the momentum going for 2024 

In 2023, thanks to our Friends, donors and partners, we were able to make over 180 grant awards to churches throughout the United Kingdom, with funding totalling more than £1.4 million. And in 2024, we will continue to provide funding, support and training for churches. 

This means making sure buildings are watertight and windproof, so that churches can be a safe and secure place for communities to gather and for visitors to enjoy. 

So, this new year, whatever it will bring, we will face it together to help keep our churches well maintained and open for all. It will be a challenge – there is no doubt – but this last year reminded us as a charity that there is solidarity out there when it comes to supporting churches. From philanthropists keen to help out, funding bodies like the Pilgrim Trust, Dulverton Trust and the National Lottery Heritage Fund wanting to invest in churches, to people across the UK who continue to donate their time, energy and money to help protect this important heritage. 

Here at the National Churches Trust, we will be doing all we can to champion churches. And we would love you to join us in doing this. So keep an eye out from us – through our newsletters, magazine and social media accounts, for ways that you can get involved and partner with us to help save the UK’s historic churches.