Image of a parish church with scaffolding along one side.
Most construction and repair work to places of worship was suspended due to the lockdown © Ruth Blackman
Most construction and repair work to places of worship was suspended due to the lockdown © Ruth Blackman

The Impact of Covid-19 on Rural Churches, Contractors and Professional Advisers

By Ruth Blackman, Architect, at Birdsall, Swash and Blackman Ltd 

Covid-19 and the closure of places of worship has included the suspension of all construction work, including repairs and alterations, and inspections. This has and will continue to have a considerable detrimental effect on professionals, including specialists, conservators and contractors.

Although the Government has permitted construction work to continue, the guidance from the Church of England has been to suspend all construction and maintenance work, with the exception of work concerning health and safety issues.

Many small rural specialist contractors and sub-contractors, as well as professional advisors, rely heavily on repair and maintenance work to churches and, in many cases, this is the field in which they have devoted their specialist knowledge. We, like many others, have experienced first-hand immediate suspension of work on site, and extensive furloughing of those regularly involved in such work on rural churches.

It should also be noted that many tasks could be conducted under the safe social distancing requirements, using the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safe working procedures. These include maintenance work, minor repairs and inspections by professional advisors, contractors, sub-contractors and conservators as well as tendering contractors.

Quinquennial inspections have also ceased. Again, these could be carried out under safe working conditions in accordance with social distancing measures. These often instigate further repair projects and are imperative to ensuring that health and safety is maintained.

Furthermore, due to the suspension of works, specialist suppliers have also temporarily closed down causing concerns regarding potential delays in the supply of materials and equipment.

The impact of suspending construction work has and inevitably will continue to lead to increased costs, with the deficiency of continuity having a significant impact on productivity.

Further to this, additional risks arise in association with temporary protection being left in place for an unspecified period of time. These temporary works however, still require regular maintenance and inspection for safe working practice.

The suspension of forthcoming and potential projects also leaves fabric at risk, which not only has a financial impact but also impacts on the very heritage of churches unnecessarily since, as previously stated, work could be carried out using the required social distancing measurers. This would also concur with the Government’s statement concerning construction work.

In summary, very little work has been continued or been completed during the lockdown period as contractors, site operatives, professional advisors and administrative staff have been furloughed in addition to the Church of England suspending all construction and associated activities.

There is a need to clinically examine the construction work required to rural churches, and to identify categories of work. As a result of this, projects which can be carried out in accordance with safe working procedures could be allowed to continue/commence with minimum risk.

The need also arises to find sustainable funding for places of worship, financial resources being understandably stretched, and a solution must be found to preserve the majestic heritage, the culmination of centuries of conservation and preservation.

A financial injection would also significantly increase the volume of work on parish churches in order to assist recovery. The result of this would instigate the release of work and enable those involved in church repairs and conservation work to recover their cashflow, even if not to full capacity. This would generate work for contractors that in turn would generate work for specialist suppliers, while simultaneously protecting the buildings at the heart of conservation work.

Although the outlook at present looks rather bleak, by taking the appropriate action we can protect those who look after and save and protect our heritage which by extension will look after and save and protect our heritage for future generations.

Black and white photo of woman standing against brick wall.

Ruth Blackman, Architect, at Birdsall, Swash and Blackman Ltd © Ruth Blackman

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