Interior view of the Old Meeting House, Colegate, Norwich.
The interior of the Old Meeting House in Colegate shows the dark wooden benches and gallery and the plain style of the décor © Historic England
The interior of the Old Meeting House in Colegate shows the dark wooden benches and gallery and the plain style of the décor © Historic England

The Churches Conservation Trust in Lockdown

By Peter Aiers, Chief Executive of the Churches Conservation Trust

This nation’s historic churches have stood through all the disruption that history has thrown at them. These buildings carry a unique record of how major national and international events affect even the smallest of places. I am certain that many of our historic churches will tell stories of this time to future generations.

For the first time in 50 years all of the 356 churches that the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) care for are closed. All of our offices are closed and none of our planned activities to generate income are able to take place. This time of year is normally when we would see our fundraising, commercial and wall-safe incomes at their peak.

The transition needed to close our offices was quite straightforward as our systems are geared to the majority of staff working from home. The teams adapted quickly to a new way of working and our IT has been up to the job. I have been really impressed by how the organisation has responded and kept working.

The bulk of our work is with communities and volunteers (there is a great deal of historic building maintenance and repair too). The CCT has had to adapt quickly to support our network during this period. Many of our volunteers are from the generation most at risk from the virus and so have isolated. When the lockdown is lifted we will have to be careful in our planning to ensure that we do not put our volunteers at risk, whilst getting our churches open again.

We also remain worried about heritage crime with less people being able to keep a watching eye over them.

Regular maintenance of our churches has been interrupted, and we have had to close our major repair projects, although one of these is reopening again. This all takes careful planning and is a major financial risk as the projects are now seriously delayed. There is a knock on impact with regard to staff we have employed for these major projects as their funding is finite and their roles are based in community engagement.

Due to the lockdown we face a very significant loss of income which we are managing at present. We will survive, but this does represent a significant impact to our plans and the delivery of our strategy.

Obviously loss of income is a difficult situation to manage for any organisation. The CCT has reserves that it is using to deal with some of the significant loss of income that we face, but it is our major projects where the support is needed. Having had to delay or stop works to our major projects means that we face increased costs. We are concerned about the potential increased costs due to the programme delay, which has a big impact on what the people we have employed can do on the projects. Our community based projects have often taken years to get to site and have mixed funding models. We are having very constructive conversations with funders, and are grateful for the ongoing dialogue, but this does remain an area of risk and concern.

There are some benefits to this significant disruption. We have had to think very differently about some of the things that we do. We have transformed our ability to communicate across the organisation and solved some long term issues of how to get a dispersed organisation linking up. Our local community teams have high hopes that online conferencing, although no replacement for meeting, will be more mainstream among our volunteers and provide more creative ways for us to connect them together and stay in touch once lockdown ends. These techniques could save us money, reduce our carbon footprint and ironically bring our volunteers closer together.

Oh, and we cannot wait to get Champing™ open again!

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