Protect Duty and Church Buildings

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2021

 

The Protect Duty proposes security measures to improve public security but could seriously impact churches ability to open to the public.

The National Churches Trust, together with many other organisations, has responded to a consultation by the Home Office on 'The Protect Duty’ more commonly be known as Martyn’s law.

Martyn Hett was amongst those who tragically died following a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena following a concert in 2017. Since his death, Martyn’s mother has campaigned for the creation of a new ‘Protect Duty’ for public places and venues which will require improved security measures to protect against a terrorist attack, such as that which took her son’s life.

The full consultation document is available online. The simplest way to respond is to send an email to ProtectDuty@homeoffice.gov.uk no later than 11:45 pm on Friday 2 July 2021.

The Historic Religious Buildings Alliance have also published their response to the Protect Duty consultation which can be read on their website.

National Churches Trust consultation response

The National Churches Trust is the UK wide charity supporting church buildings open for worship. We support church buildings of all denominations. Our work focuses on two main goals: sustaining church buildings and inspiring support for church buildings.

The National Churches Trust welcomes the overall aims of the Protect Duty to safeguard the public from terrorism by introducing a range of measures to make the public safer at publicly accessible locations.

However, the proposals in the consultation document, as they currently stand, could have a very detrimental effect on churches, chapels and meeting houses, potentially meaning that some may choose to close their doors to the public outside strictly defined worship times.

1. The nature of church buildings in the UK

The consultation states in Section 1. Proposal 1. "The Duty should apply to owners and/or operators of publicly accessible venues with a capacity of 100 persons or more."

It goes on to state:

"For most organisations in scope of a Protect Duty, we propose that compliance would be demonstrated by providing assurance that the threat and risk impacts had been considered, and appropriate mitigations had been considered and taken forward (implemented or plans in place for their progression). For organisations at the lower end of criteria thresholds, this would entail simple low – or no - cost preparedness measures such as ensuring that:

• Staff are trained and aware of the nature of threats, likely attack methodologies and how to respond;

• Staff are trained to identify the signs of hostile reconnaissance and take appropriate action; and

• There are plans in place for an organisation's response to different attack types, which are regularly trained and exercised."

There are around 40,500 church buildings in the UK that are open for public worship. This includes churches in small villages, which rely on a very small number of volunteers to look after the building, as well as large city churches, which may have paid employees managing the building. The overwhelming majority of these churches, including small rural churches, have a capacity of 100 persons or more, (although for some, far fewer than this number attend church services) and would be impacted by the Protect Duty.

2. Potential impact of The Protect Duty on churches

The Protect Duty would require churches with a capacity of 100 or more, (that is to say, the overwhelming majority), as with all other venues, to be trained and aware of the nature of terrorist threats, likely attack methodologies and how to respond.

This could disproportionately affect churches which depend heavily on volunteers to look after their buildings. Many churches already face severe financial pressures which can be due to having small congregations, having to pay large sums of money for repairs and maintenance to keep what are often ancient, historic and Listed buildings in good condition, and suffering from a decline in income during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

The Protect Duty would be likely to add considerable additional administrative and financial burdens onto these buildings, and could ultimately lead to them being closed apart from at service times.

This could include increased costs associated with the insurance of church buildings if there is a statutory duty to take the potential risk of terrorism into account. Insurance premiums could be much higher should the penalties be civil ones and not criminal ones, as this means there could be need to insure against being held liable following an attack.

3. Other issues

The Church of England has suggested other specific issues with the Protect Duty.

These are:

That they could undermine the welcome a church can give to those who attend or visit;

That compliance could impact on the willingness of people to volunteer or hold voluntary groups;

That the duty will cover all the public space that a church has – halls, churchyards, fields

The National Churches Trust endorses these concerns.

4. The importance of keeping churches open to the public.

Whilst some churches only open for the purpose of holding religious services, many more have an open door policy of allowing people to enter during the day throughout the week for spiritual reflection, sightseeing or to take part in wide range of community activities that are held in church buildings, such as youth clubs, mother and toddler groups and for accessing help such as food banks.

The National Churches Trust actively encourages churches, chapels and meeting houses to open on a regular basis. For all of the projects we fund, one of our criteria is that the church must be open for a minimum of 100 days a year beyond worship use. We also provide a wide range of advice and support to help churches attract more tourists and visitors,

Church buildings are places of worship, a vital part of the UK's heritage and many provide invaluable community support. Getting more people to use, value and visit them is key to help ensure their long- term sustainability.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, we ask that the specific nature of church buildings - the role they play in the daily life of the nation, the fact that they are in the main looked after and managed by volunteers and the severe financial pressure faced by many of them - is properly considered in drawing up Protect Duty legislation.

Otherwise, the Protect Duty may mean that many churches may simply choose to close their doors and stop access to the public to their buildings on a permanent basis.