‘Watershed moment’ as churches need to get better and smarter at applying for funding, says Dame Caroline Spelman MP

Posted On: 
29th June 2018

With reduced attendance and dwindling parishioners’ donations, Dame Caroline Spelman MP spoke at the National Churches Trusts annual conference on how to create a more sustainable future for the UK’s Christian places of worship.

In recent years, there has been a reduction in funding available to churches, said Dame Caroline Spelman MP.

Speaking at “Building Resilience”, the National Churches Trust's 2018 conference on Wednesday, Dame Caroline Spelman MP Second Church Estates Commissioner, pointed to the ‘watershed moment’ approaching for church buildings and the people who care for them.

The conference was focused on creating a more sustainable future for the UK’s Christian places of worship.

Dame Caroline stated, “the scale of the challenge facing churches today has only become greater as church attendance has reduced and the income from parishioners’ donations has dwindled.”

She described how over the last 40 years, governments of different political persuasions have been prevailed on to provide public subsidy to repair and maintain church buildings, 75% of which are listed.

However, she said that in recent years, there has been a reduction in funding available to churches.

Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund

Dame Caroline described how in part as a response to this, in 2014, the Government opened the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, specifically to help parish churches with essential repairs. 

The recently published review of the scheme showed what a huge impact even small amounts of money have had on local communities, she continued.

The fund set up by the previous Chancellor, George Osborne distributed fifty-five million pounds, which aside from making the building watertight it has been demonstrated in the report to have inadvertently improved community cohesion and the profile of the church in the local community.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner also celebrated how the fund had also improved the ability of the church to tackle other restoration and reparation projects and given the community increased confidence to apply for other grants.

She said "It is amazing what a little seed corn money can do.”

Watershed moment

As a result of the DCMS review of church sustainability in 2017 chaired by Bernard Taylor, the two pilots to improve sustainability that are underway; one in a rural and one in an urban setting will be a “watershed moment."

Dame Caroline cautioned that she does not believe it automatically follows that Government reserves will be provided at scale to replicate the best practice for these pilots.

Dame Caroline also addressed the unexpected decision by the Heritage Lottery Fund to roll up the Grants for Places of Worship scheme into the wider funding pool due to the dwindling income from the lottery itself.

She stated “to be fair to Sir Peter Luff, who is a good friend and an honourable man, has said the Church will continue to receive the same percentage from the wider pool but it is one of dwindling size, hence a reduction in real terms and the end of large scale grants which were so vital to address the multi-million-pound repair bills some church buildings face.”

She said that in response to this, “churches need to get better and smarter at applying for funding” as their applications will now be competing with much larger and well-funded applications from world heritage sites, national monuments and historic houses.

One of the issues concerning the church-heritage sector is the future of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, and Caroline Spelman spelt out the actions she has taken to ensure its continuance to 2020.

Luke March, Chairman of the National Churches Trust said:

"Our 2018 Conference was a sell-out, with over 200 people taking part. Many thanks to everyone who contributed and helped to make it such a success, especially to our speakers, who included Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP, Bill Bryson OBE and Ros Kerslake OBE, Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund."

"The aim of our Building Resilience conference was to help volunteers and staff involved in church heritage ensure the future sustainability of church buildings so that they can be there for people to use and enjoy.”

"At our conference we also unveiled our strategy for 2019 – 2023. With three key goals of preserving heritage, promoting sustainability and inspiring support, this is designed to make sure that Trust can continue to support a wide range of church improvements, to make it easier for churches to carry out regular maintenance, and to encourage more people to visit churches."


You can read Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman’s speech in full and find out more about the conference here https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/news/building-resilience