Image of the exterior of a small church with a stone cross outside and neat flowerbeds.
This former chapel of St John, Belper, is now used for Town Council meetings. © Historic England Archive
This former chapel of St John, Belper, is now used for Town Council meetings. © Historic England Archive

Ownership, Management and Responsibility

When developing proposals for additional uses, you may need to consider whether current governance and management models will be appropriate for future uses. A new or amended model may make it easier to develop and plan uses beyond worship.

Models of management and ownership

There is a wide range of potential additional uses, from hiring space to local groups on an occasional basis, to portioning off part of the building for a shop or post office. To support this varied picture, there are multiple management and funding models to consider.

For some uses, such as occasional venue hire, you may just need to think about how to manage the building during these times. For larger or commercial schemes, you may need to consider setting up a separate company or working in partnership with another organisation. It is important to develop an organisational and legal structure which best supports your needs.

In recent years, the Church of England and others have developed a range of flexible models which allow congregations to get help in running and managing their buildings.

Information on new models

There are lots of sources of information on new models. Please note that, although a lot of information is denomination specific, there are likely to be elements useful for your situation. If you are considering a specific model, we encourage you to get advice from your denominational body as well.

The Diocese of Hereford has produced the Crossing the Threshold toolkit. It is aimed at Church of England churches but there is a great deal of information which is widely applicable. It is a step by step guide to developing wider community uses and managing building projects. Chapter 4 specifically deals with new models of management.

The Plunkett Foundation helps rural communities to set up and run community-owned shops and other community-owned rural services. They along with the Church of England, the Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church have drawn up guidelines for places of worship setting up a community shop.

The Church of England’s ChurchCare website also provides information for churches wishing to develop additional uses. It includes information on setting up Friends groups and Trusts, community shops, and services such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and Post Offices.

For further information, please see our additional resources page.

Closed places of worship

A small number of charitable trusts exist to take ownership of and preserve places of worship which are closed or at risk of closure. This allows for the retention of fittings, fixtures, monuments and decoration and preserves buildings of the highest architectural and historic importance.

By vesting a particularly sensitive building in a trust in perpetuity it is protected from the possibility of repeated changes of ownership or use. Trusts will normally seek to make use of the buildings as much as possible through concerts, lectures or tourist visits. These uses are usually relatively undemanding and do not require structural change or removal of fixtures and fittings.

The three main national trusts are:

  • The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) is a national charity which cares for historic churches of the Church of England that are no longer required for regular worship. It works with local communities to develop new uses for them.
  • The Friends of Friendless Churches cares for buildings of historic interest, architectural merit or beauty in any part of the British Isles, for ‘public access and the benefit of the nation’.
  • The Historic Chapels Trust (now managed by the CCT) takes into care chapels and other non-Anglican places of worship in England of outstanding architectural and historic interest. Buildings in the care of the Trust include former Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Roman Catholic and Unitarian places of worship. Historic England provides grants for the running costs of the trust.

In some cases local trusts may also be set up. The majority of former places of worship will be made available for other religious use. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church place restrictions on such uses.