Great Interpretations

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Churches in the Horncastle area of Lincolnshire have increased their visitor numbers, thanks to Great Interpretations.

Great Interpretations, a project supported by the National Churches Trust from April 2018 – April 2019, told the stories of over 50 churches in the Horncastle Deanery, Lincolnshire. Working with volunteers, stewards and clergy of these buildings, it made it easier for them to understand their heritage, record priceless treasures and promote their churches to audiences far and wide in order to encourage visitors, raise income and make them more sustainable.

The project used digital technology and improved interpretation to change the way people access, engage and learn about the churches and chapels. It also delivered training courses giving volunteers the skills and confidence to welcome visitors, to create innovative and engaging interpretation and to produce attractive publicity, photography and video in order to market their church to the rest of the world.

On completion of the project in April 2019, the large majority of churches who took part had increased their visitor numbers and are now armed with the resources, information and a new confidence to make them more resilient in the future.

The one year project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, was delivered by the National Churches Trust tourism team. The team manages the ExploreChurches website, creates and manages innovative tourism projects and offers advice and volunteer training alongside design and other consultation work to churches and organisations across the UK.

 An evaluation of the project, carried out by Lisa Davenport of Bright Culture, highlighted a number of the successes of Great Interpretations which include:

  • Four rural churches situated on public footpaths now offering tea and coffee making facilities to encourage people to stop a while at their church and enjoy the setting whilst having refreshments. They can be found at St Peter & St Paul, Belchford, St Martin’s Scamblesby, All Saints Hammeringham and St Andrew, Ashby.
  • All Saints Hammeringham also used to be permanently closed apart from one Sunday service per month. It now opens to the public every weekend.
  • St Mary in Horncastle has undertaken a visitor audit to identify where there strengths and weaknesses are in terms of providing a visitor welcome. Representatives of the church now sit on the Town Development Team, in order to ensure the church has full recognition in future tourism developments.
  • St Lawrence, Revesby used to be closed apart from for Sunday services, believing that no one visited it. After a digital counter placed at the porch for one month recorded 1729 visits to the locked door, they now open on a regular basis.

Revd Mark Holden, rural dean of Horncastle Deanery said:

”Great Interpretations supported and encouraged church volunteer teams to research the heritage of their buildings, churchyards and communities in order to improve their knowledge, discover the hidden stories within and understand the importance of their church in their town or village.”

“Volunteers who felt isolated and at the end of their road, caring for churches they thought no-one was interested in have felt, valued, appreciated and empowered to make change. They know that the National Churches Trust will continue to support them with advice, expertise, promotion and in some cases even funding.”

Linda Patrick, Church Support Officer for the National Churches Trust said:

“It was delightful working with the volunteers from these churches. They were so enthusiastic and as a result Great Interpretations was a resounding success and delivered on all its targets and outputs. The project provided support, guidance and care, giving the volunteers who look after churches confidence to open their doors and allow people to freely explore and enjoy the spaces.”

“Whilst this project has now ended, the journey the churches have embarked on is, in many cases, just beginning. The project has opened up a new dialogue about churches, inspiring and encouraging teams to think about them differently. Teams are now examining their access and their offer. They are looking at what they can provide in terms of events, activities, interpretation and facilities that will continue to attract more visitors to their buildings. They are thinking about the welcome and how their church is presented and how it might become more inviting.” 

Key project outputs of Great Interpretations

The project engaged with 54 Historic Churches, Chapels and Meeting Houses and:

  • Delivered training sessions in Tourism, Photography, Interpretation, Promotion and video to 110 church representatives.
  • Opened up 4 churches which were previously completely closed outside of services.
  • Created a new portfolio of high quality professional photographs for 20 churches.
  • Created short professional films for 5 churches, focussed around 5 visitor types.
  • Created a professional trailer style film of a combination of 20 of the churches.
  • Installed digital people counters into 11 churches to begin to collect visitor numbers and establish baseline data.
  • Delivered a guided walk for 17 people.
  • Delivered a coach trip for 39 people.
  • Given 54 churches an online presence with their own webpage.
  • Produced 8000 flyers, 400 posters, along with adverts, radio interviews and articles across the local press to promote the project. 

To find out more and read the evaluation report of the Great Interpretations Churches project please visit the project page.

To see the churches featured visit Happy Horncastle.