Government Pilot Scheme Helps Protect 396 Listed Places of Worship

A £1.8 million scheme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and run by Historic England, has helped 396 listed places of worship including financial support to 136 listed places of worship during its two-year period.

The Taylor Review Pilot ran from September 2018 to March 2020. The aim of the pilot was to test a recommended model from the 2017 Taylor Review: Sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals, for how listed places of worship could become more sustainable through regular maintenance and repair and wider community involvement.

From new volunteers coming forward to help with repairs, to inspiring new visitors with engaging storytelling and creating community spaces with a sense of belonging, participants gained confidence in prioritising urgent repairs and reaching out to help local communities enjoy these amazing buildings.

The pilot offered free support and advice for listed places of worship of all faiths and denominations.  Work focused on Greater Manchester and Suffolk, to provide urban and rural contexts for the review’s recommendations. The pilot has supported 49% of all listed places of worship in Suffolk and 41% of all listed places of worship in Greater Manchester.

Grant funding awarded through the Taylor Review Pilot enabled necessary maintenance and minor repair work to be brought forward by 2-5 years on average.  It has helped 136 listed places of worship (65 in Greater Manchester and 71 in Suffolk) to carry out essential repair and maintenance work, protecting treasured historic buildings for local communities.

Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said:

Places of worship are vital to our local communities. I am pleased that this pilot scheme, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has been such a success in helping so many buildings. By protecting these places of worship, we are bringing together communities, engaging visitors, and preserving our heritage for future generations to enjoy.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said:

“This pilot has proved how a ‘stitch in time’ approach really works and it has successfully helped 396 listed places of worship over the past two years. Addressing small repairs has increased understanding that doing even the smallest job makes a big difference to keeping these extraordinary places running. It’s been wonderful to see local communities engaged and supporters dedicated to the care of historic places of worship.”

Bernard Taylor, author of The Taylor Review: Sustainability of English Churches and Cathedrals (2017) said:

“I am delighted that this data driven assessment of the Taylor Review Pilots has shown the considerable effectiveness, in practice of our main recommendations and I am grateful to all involved in this work. I hope these findings lead to the wide implementations of the Taylor Review’s ideas thus providing necessary support to buildings and communities across the whole country.”

Five key elements of the Taylor Review Pilot:

  • A Fabric Support Officer in each region who advised about historic building maintenance and supported listed places of worship in applying for funds under the Minor Repairs Grant.
  • A Community Development Adviser in each region who helped congregations to increase engagement beyond the worshipping community in both rural and urban areas.
  • 16 workshops (eight in each region) run by the Churches Conservation Trust and focusing on maintenance, community engagement, project management and advanced fundraising and business planning. The workshops promoted best practice in historic building maintenance and the value of developing strong links with local communities.
  • A Minor Repairs Fund for minor repair to or maintenance of historic places of worship. This aimed to address the physical deterioration of historic fabric by encouraging a ‘stitch in time’ approach to undertaking maintenance tasks or commissioning minor repairs.
  • Evaluation of the success of the pilot, analysing what was achieved with its resources and identifying key learnings to inform future decisions about supporting places of worship.

High levels of interest in the Taylor Review Pilot demonstrated the need for advice or grant support.

The importance of maintenance

The grant funding focused on the value of maintenance and minor repairs, with an emphasis on these tasks rather than major repairs.  Addressing smaller problems such as leaks reduced deterioration of the historic buildings and gave representatives of listed places of worship time to fundraise for larger repair projects. A backlog of essential maintenance required on centuries-old buildings means that large repair work is still necessary.

When first engaged with the Taylor Review Pilot, only 26% of listed places of worship in Greater Manchester and 14% in Suffolk had a formal maintenance plan. With the support of the Fabric Support Officers, new or updated maintenance plans were created for all 136 listed places of worship receiving grant funding from the Taylor Review Pilot.

Participating listed places of worship reported increased knowledge and confidence in managing repair projects, enabling them to prioritise future repair works and to apply for supporting grant funding. Many participants expressed concern about where that funding would come from and stressed the need for grants for major, unavoidable, repairs (see case studies in notes to editors).

Expert advice and support

The expert advice and face-to-face support given by the Fabric Support Officer and Community Development Adviser in each area was greatly appreciated by listed places of worship taking part in the pilot.

Community Development Advisers worked closely with representatives of listed places of worship to understand their specific characteristics, activities and the local area in which they operated.  They gave specialist advice to 205 listed places of worship during the pilot (137 in Suffolk and 68 in Greater Manchester) which was tailored to the needs of individual places of worship according to their experience of community engagement.

Through the support of Community Development Advisers, representatives of listed places of worship understood local community needs and the benefit of partnerships. Collaboratively, they created strategic community engagement plans and developed activities to support them. This brought new communities into buildings, not for worship but to build friendships to overcome isolation, make refugees feel welcome and help local school children understand the story of where they live and those who had been there before them.

Of the listed places of worship that received sustained community development advice, half had developed new events over the course of the pilot in Greater Manchester (8 out of 16) and 6 out of 15 had done so in Suffolk. Five out of fifteen had generated additional visitor resources. Volunteer support was increased by 9 out of 17 places of worship in Greater Manchester and 5 out of 17 in Suffolk.

Experience of running the Taylor Review Pilot directly informed Historic England’s recently announced COVID-19 Emergency Heritage at Risk Response Fund to help fund urgent minor repairs, maintenance or development works at historic sites at risk.

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