Church ceiling mural featuring sun, moon, stars, trees and a hand flanked by clouds, all against a bright blue background.

Ceiling mural at the Church of St Andrew, Sunderland. Painted in 1927 by MacDonald Gill, to the design of E S Prior. The church was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in 2019 © Historic England Archive DP248636
Ceiling mural at the Church of St Andrew, Sunderland. Painted in 1927 by MacDonald Gill, to the design of E S Prior. The church was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in 2019 © Historic England Archive DP248636

Places of Worship at Risk

We continue to make the case for listed places of worship as heritage in their own right, as cultural centres for communities and as faith buildings. We support the people who look after them so they can share them with their communities and make them open as places of wellbeing for people of all faiths and none.

The 14,800 listed places of worship in England provide spaces for worship as well as social and community events, allowing people to gather for a wide range of practical and spiritual reasons. They provide a haven for individuals needing a quiet, safe and peaceful place to take a break from daily worries, irrespective of their own beliefs or circumstances.

They continue to accommodate celebration and grief, shared and private experiences, art, music and sculpture, toddler groups, political hustings, and self-help and addiction support sessions. These are significant spaces in which human experience has been, and continues to be, welcome.

The current situation

We work closely with groups of all denominations and faiths to monitor the condition of listed places of worship.

In total, 6.2% (913) of our listed places of worship are on our 2019 Heritage at Risk Register, two more than in 2018. Although 104 places of worship have been removed from the Register in the past year, 106 have had to be added.

Entries on the Register include buildings which are generally in fair or good condition, but with a significant problem with one major element, such as the tower. Others are vulnerable to becoming at risk.

The main threats are failing:

  • Roofs
  • Rainwater goods
  • High level stonework

Carrying out simple, regular maintenance is essential to prevent these buildings declining into a poor or very bad condition.

Interior of the main nave of the church of All Saints with pews in the foreground.
From being at the brink of closure, the Bishop Latimer Memorial Church of All Saints, Winson Green, Birmingham, now remains in active use. Built in 1903, this large Grade II* listed church was designed by William Henry Bidlake, a leading architect of Birmingham’s Arts and Crafts Movement. With the help of a Historic England grant, essential long-standing repairs have been completed. The church has now come off the Heritage at Risk Register and, thanks to its new owners – the Seventh Day Adventist Church – this splendid building has been given a new lease of life. © Damian Griffiths on behalf of Donald Insall Associates

The challenge ahead

Historic England recognises that the care of historic places of worship relies heavily on worshipping congregations.

Since 2008, we have given grants to create 34 Support Officer posts throughout England. Support Officers help congregations look after their buildings, giving them access to a wide range of skills and advice. So far, they have provided 1,574 congregations with support and advice, and helped them to gain over £13 million in grants to deal with urgent repairs.

A new initiative is the Taylor Review Pilot, a project funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The aim of the pilot is to test some of the recommendations of the 2017 Taylor Review: Sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals and to provide free support and advice for listed places of worship of all faiths and denominations.

The pilot started in September 2018 and will run until March 2020 in two pilot areas, one predominantly rural and the other predominantly urban – Suffolk and Greater Manchester. It has five key strands:

  • Support and advice from a Community Development Advisor
  • Support and advice from a Fabric Support Officer
  • 16 workshops (eight in each region) focusing on four different topics; maintenance, community engagement, project management, and advanced fundraising and business planning
  • Minor Repairs Fund for minor repairs or maintenance works
  • Evaluation of the success of the pilot as a possible solution to some of the issues identified in The Taylor Review

To July 2019, the Taylor Review Pilot team have been in contact with over 350 places of worship in the two pilot areas, and visited over 160. Six successful workshops (three in each region) have been held, and over £400,000 has been committed for maintenance and minor repairs under the minor repairs grant scheme.

We continue to support denominations to manage their historic buildings; recent partnerships with the Society of Friends and the Roman Catholic Church provided reports on the significance of each of the Society’s Meeting Houses and helped to roll out a new faculty management system and training for the Roman Catholic dioceses that use it.

Places of worship are vulnerable to heritage crime. We're funding a post to help the police gather intelligence so support is focused where it's needed most. We're working in partnership with local authorities, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and faith groups to reduce levels of damage to much loved sites. Metal theft remains a scourge and our guidance on prevention, response and recovery underpins our advice to congregations that need rapid and effective support.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) welcomes applications from places of worship seeking to carry out repairs, develop facilities or welcome more visitors. Congregations can get advice about which of the NLHF funding programmes would be most appropriate on the Fund's website.

Understanding significance

Historic England supports congregations and faith groups using historic buildings, whether they were built as places of worship or have been converted for that purpose.

We offer advice on sensitively adapting spaces and installing new facilities so that places of worship can be used for a wide range of purposes. We helped to produce an online tool to help congregations to prepare Statements of Significance so they can understand what is important about their building.

We also provide technical guidance. This covers a variety of topics from building repairs to making places of worship more resilient to climate change.

A guide to the range of places of worship and their architectural and historic significance is available online, as are our recently published short guides to 19th and 20th century Roman Catholic churches and Nonconformist places of worship. We have also published major books on Nonconformist chapels (Chapels of England. Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, October 2017) and mosques (The British Mosque: An Architectural and Social History, March 2018).

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