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Opening and Welcoming Places of Worship

Historic England is keen that everyone should have the opportunity to experience and enjoy historic places of worship in their own way. A recent poll found that 79% of people think that places of worship are an important part of our heritage and 24% of people surveyed visited for reasons other than worship. 

Welcoming visitors and helping them to enjoy your historic place of worship may be an important way of reaching new people who would like to help with maintenance or fundraising.

A food market taking place in a church.
Food market in St Giles, Shipbourne, Kent © Martin Steward

How can places of worship be made more welcoming?

Visitors won’t come in if they don’t know the building is open. Make it obvious that anyone is welcome to come in and explore, whether they are a person of faith or not.  It might be helpful to have someone to welcome visitors (also good for security) but if not then a leaflet or notice explaining the building, how it’s used and some of the key things to see might be useful.  The Divine Inspiration resources will help you look creatively at welcoming visitors and telling engaging stories to those who visit.

Unlocking the door may seem to be the least secure thing to do but the more people who come in and enjoy your building and reduce the potential risks. Ecclesiastical Insurance has information and guidance on the precautions you can take to minimise risks. The National Churches Trust has further practical and sensible precautions to take with this approach.

What places of worship have a duty to be open?

Places of worship that have received grant aid from public bodies, including the HLF and Historic England, are required to be open for a minimum number of days a year for public access. Where places of worship have received grants from HLF there is a requirement to be open for at least 40 days a year outside of the hours of worship. Historic England provides a searchable database of grant-aided buildings.

Heritage Open Days and the Ride and Stride weekends also provide excellent opportunities to see historic places of worship as does the European Jewish Heritage Day and the Visit My Mosque run by the Muslim Council of Britain.

What about buildings cared for by charitable trusts?

There are a number of charitable trusts dedicated to conserving historic places of worship that are no longer needed for worship but are so significant that they cannot be adapted for alternative use. Each one is committed to maintaining public access and offers a range of opportunities to visit the buildings they hold in trust:

  • The Churches Conservation Trust is responsible for over 340 of England's most beautiful and historic churches. The trust promotes public enjoyment of these churches, and encourages their use as an educational and community resource.
  • The Friends of Friendless Churches own over 40 former places of worship, half in England and half in Wales. The trust preserves the buildings making them peaceful spaces for visitors and the local community to enjoy.
  • The Historic Chapels Trust was formed in 1993 and owns 20 chapels and other places of worship of outstanding architectural and historic interest. The object is to secure their preservation, repair and maintenance for public benefit, including contents, burial grounds and ancillary buildings.

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