Historic churches threatened by funding cuts and climate change

Published: Friday, July 13, 2018


A big increase in the number of historic churches and chapels seeking funding has been reported by the National Churches Trust in its Annual Review for 2017 - 2018.

Figures in the Trust's Annual Review show that it received 480 applications for grants in 2017, an increase of 26% on 2016. 

Download the Annual Review 2017 - 2018

The increase is due to a number of factors, including the worsening funding landscape for church buildings following cuts to the Heritage Lottery Fund’s grant programmes in 2017, and the end of the government funded Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund in 2016.

‘Heritage at Risk’

In 2017, the National Churches Trust awarded £1.7 million to help pay for 230 repair, maintenance and development projects at churches and chapels throughout the United Kingdom.  This was an increase of £300,000 compared to the £1.4 million it awarded in 2016.

In 2017, funding from the Trust helped to remove 29 churches from the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

Some of the UK’s most precious Christian places of worship benefitted from National Churches Trust grants in 2017, including:

  • St Botolph’s church in Boston, Lincolnshire, the UK’s largest parish church. Grade I listed and on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register, St Botolph’s received a £40,000 grant for urgent roof repairs.
  •  St David’s Old Church in Llanwrtyd, Wales, a church with a recorded history spanning more than 1,000 years. The Grade II* listed church received a £20,000 grant for urgent repairs to stonework and gutters.
  •  St George the Martyr in Southwark, London, designed by John Price in 1735. Grade II listed and on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register. St George the Martyr received a £10,000 grant to help fund new community facilities.  

In 2017, the Trust increased the provision of grants for maintenance work to fund small repairs to prevent the need for more expensive repairs in the future. 51 Maintenance Grants were awarded, made possible through the support of The Pilgrim Trust, totalling £104,006.  

The National Churches Trust supports church buildings throughout the UK that are open for worship. In 2017 funding from the Trust benefitted Church of England, Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Church of Scotland, Church in Wales, Methodist, United Reformed, Baptist and Presbyterian places of worship.

Claire Walker, CEO of the National Churches Trust said:

 "Over the last four years the National Churches Trust the number of UK churches and chapels applying for our grants has risen substantially, with the number of applications rising from 300 in 2014 to 480 in 2017.”

 “A number of factors have come together to create a tipping point for the future of many church buildings.” 

 “In 2017 there was particular demand for grants to help repair and replace church roofs. This in part reflects that the roofing of many Victorian churches is simply outliving its lifespan after over 100 years of exposure to the elements.”

 “We are also seeing more churches needing to replace rainwater goods. The intensity of extreme weather patterns, including heavier rainfall and storms, is putting church gutters and drains under strain and systems designed in the past cannot cope.”

 Climate change

 “Looking to the future, the impact of climate change could have a serious impact on the UK’s historic churches.” 

 “Higher levels of rainfall in the UK, such as the 20% increase seen in Scotland since the 1960s, with more cycles of wetting and drying, will cause damage to timber and stonework.”

 “Stronger winds and more frequent storms will threaten roofs, towers and spires.” 

 “Climate change is also making the UK ever more vulnerable to invasive pests. The biggest danger for church buildings would be from termites, which are now widespread in France, with infestations being found close to the Channel coast.”

 Help needed

 “Over the coming years, many of the UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses are going to need all the help they can get. “

 “That’s why I’m very grateful to all the individuals, trusts and foundations and other organisations who support our work through gifts, legacies and on-going financial resourcing. “

 “That includes our growing number of Friends, 716 of whom joined us in 2017, and all of whom help us champion the future of some of the most historic and beautiful religious buildings to be found anywhere in the world.”

 Featured in the Annual Review

The National Churches Trust’s Annual Review 2017 - 2018 includes a number of feature articles looking in detail at the issues affecting church buildings. 

Catherine Pepinster, writer and broadcaster, examines how the craft of the stonemason is being revived; John Goodall, Architectural Editor of Country Life, provides suggestions on how to make churches visitor-friendly; and William Parsons, co-founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust, explains how pilgrimage can help open Britain’s churches to new audiences.

Also covered in the Annual Review 2017 - 2018 are new initiatives started by the Trust, including MaintenanceBooker, which helps churches carry out vital maintenance work and ExploreChurches, which makes it possible for more people to visit churches and to discover their history and architecture. 

Download the Annual Review 2017 - 2018