In the run up to the 2022 Autumn Statement on Thursday 17 November, Sir Philip Rutnam, our Chairman, has written in The Times about the importance of church buildings to the UK and has urged the new Government to provide regular financial support to keep them open and in use.
The article can be read below and also in The Times.
We all know about the importance to communities of the NHS and public libraries, and vital they are too. But there’s one resource that provides countless community services and costs the taxpayer nothing: the UK’s network of 39,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses.
That’s more than three times the number of all GP surgeries and public libraries put together.
Every day church buildings house thousands of community groups, providing companionship for the lonely and support for the struggling. Some became Covid vaccination centres, while others are now “warm banks” providing shelter for those struggling with energy bills.
Our work has shown that church buildings are one of the most efficient ways to help the most vulnerable members of society. Our 'The House of Good' report showed that the value to society of what happens in church buildings is well over £50 billion a year. That’s using the Treasury’s own techniques to value volunteer-run services like food banks, youth groups and drug and alcohol counselling.
Remember too that nearly half of Britain’s most important historic buildings are churches, chapels and meeting houses: 45 per cent of Grade I listed buildings in England alone. And unlike other famous monuments, they’re not the responsibility of some layer of government, or even of the national denominations, but usually just local people — vicars, churchwardens and church councils.
But all of these benefits — the heritage, the base for volunteering, the sense of community and, of course, providing a place for worship and reflection — are at risk unless we look after these buildings.
Support for church buildings
The government used to play a role: from the 1970s till 2017, successive governments provided regular funding for historic church buildings. That stopped with closure of the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s dedicated grant scheme for places of worship in 2017.
More recently, the Cultural Recovery Fund provided one-off support and grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for parish churches provide limited help. This is to be welcomed but we know that the need for repairs far exceeds the resources available.
The Church of England estimates that it has a repair bill of £1 billion for its churches, and the situation is worse in many parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Delay only makes the problems get bigger.
So, when Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt put forward their budget plans our request is simple. Start to put back some regular, steady funding for repairs to match what is provided by congregations and charity, and ensure these buildings will still be serving their communities and supporting the vulnerable for hundreds more years.