Places of Worship at Risk

There are approximately 14,800 listed places of worship in England. These buildings 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 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.

Those that are unlocked during the day provide a haven for individuals needing a quiet place that is safe and beautiful where they can take a break from daily worries, irrespective of their own beliefs or circumstances.

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% (911) of our listed places of worship are on our 2018 Heritage at Risk Register. 117 places of worship have been removed from the Register in the past year, but 96 others have been 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 religious 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 40 Support Officer posts throughout England. Support Officers help congregations look after their buildings, giving them access to a wide range of skills and advice. In addition, DCMS funding for a study of the impact of Support Officers, grants and workshops means that there are four additional officers working in Greater Manchester and Suffolk as part of the Taylor Review Pilot.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has, through its Maintenance Co-operatives Project, created practical resources to support those caring for places of worship. These are an excellent starting point for local groups wanting to work together.

Places of worship are vulnerable to heritage crime. We're monitoring heritage crime to help focus support 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 Heritage Lottery Fund 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 HLF's 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 on-line 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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