This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Basic Principles for Making Changes

Here we offer guiding principles to help when you're making changes to a historic place of worship. You can find information on guiding principles for interiors, space for new facilities and installing new equipment, cabling and pipework.

The need for consent to make alterations provides a means of managing change. Historic places of worship have generally been altered or rearranged a number of times to meet changing needs. Evidence of these changes is often part of our appreciation of them.

We believe that successful schemes of new work come from a shared understanding of, and respect for, the building’s significance and the needs of its users.

Government policy on the management of change relating to historic buildings is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) supported by Planning Practice Guidance.

Delegates at a SPAB Faith in Maintenance workshop learning about how to take care of their buildings.
Delegates at a SPAB Faith in Maintenance workshop learning how to care for their building. © Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Basic principles

When you're planning new work in a historic place of worship, we recommend that you:

  • Develop a full understanding of the architectural, historic, archaeological, cultural and community significance of the building. This may involve developing Statements of Significance
  • Respond to a clearly stated and demonstrable need of the congregation and / or community. You may wish to develop a Statement of Need
  • Ensure that changes respect the significance of the building, its contents and setting
  • Make sure that your proposals minimise intervention in significant historic fabric
  • Achieve high standards of design, craftsmanship and materials
  • Identify and address any major repair issues at the outset

Image of a new small outbuilding in the churchyard of St Leonard Bretforton containing toilet facilities.
A modern outbuilding built in the churchyard of St Leonard Bretforton to house the toilet facilities. © Historic England

Significance and need

Significance takes account of what is special about a building. It takes into account architectural, historic, archaeological or artistic interest. Understanding significance will reveal where you can make changes without harm to significance. It'll also identify the sensitivities you need to take into account.

You'll need to support your application for permission to make changes by providing statements of significance and of need.

These statements explain how the changes would affect the building's historic importance and character. They also cover why you need to make these changes now and in this particular way. Include a discussion of the options you considered and why you've chosen the one you think is most suitable.

For more information on these documents, and on significance generally, please see our page on assessing significance.

Was this page helpful?

Next steps

  • See the Advice by Topic pages for more information on making specific changes to your place of worship

    Use our online tool for creating Statements of Significance

External links