Loss Of Heritage As Arson Attacks Cause Millions Of Pounds Worth Of Damage To Churches

Churches are being urged to take steps to prevent arson after a church in Sheffield was seriously damaged in an attack.

Claims data from specialist insurer Ecclesiastical shows over 150 churches across the UK have suffered arson attacks over the past five years, causing millions of pounds worth of damage to historic buildings.Churches are being urged to take steps to prevent arson after a church in Sheffield was seriously damaged in an attack.

In the latest incident, Pitsmoor Christ Church was the victim of a fire on 4 July, which South Yorkshire Police are investigating as arson.

While the number of attacks dropped during the pandemic, Ecclesiastical is warning churches to take urgent action over the summer months when arson attacks more frequently occur.

Nationwide threat

The data revealed that almost every county in the country has seen churches targeted by arsonists, with London, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Essex and Kent the worst affected.

Unlike theft of metal where organised gangs tend to carry out raids over a large geographical area, arson is often as a result of the actions of an individual and with no clear trends. This makes proactive action to protect church buildings even more important

Communities devastated

Specialist insurer Ecclesiastical was formed over 135 years ago to protect Anglican churches and church buildings against the risk of fire. The Gloucester-based company’s risk management experts produce fire prevention advice, including arson prevention guidance, specifically designed to help protect churches.

While thankfully a rare occurrence, the impact of arson on churches and the wider community can be substantial as recent significant fires have shown.

In 2017 the Grade II listed Church of the Ascension in Lower Broughton, Greater Manchester was devastated by an arson attack leaving the community distraught.. The restoration project, led by Ecclesiastical, is due for completion later this year.

More recently, All Saints Church in Mackworth, Derbyshire was gutted by fire in December 2020. A teenager has since pleaded guilty to setting fire to the church and schools in the area and is awaiting sentencing. A lengthy restoration project is underway to restore the Grade I listed building and return it to the local community.

Churches urged to take steps

Following the latest fire, Ecclesiastical’s risk management team has urged churches to take additional steps to protect themselves.

Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “Our data shows that arson seems to be on the increase again and the impact of these attacks can be truly devastating.

 “It’s horrible to see churches damaged as a result of a fire – particularly at the hands of criminals. These buildings are part of the fabric of our society, at the heart of our communities, and have been for centuries. Senseless acts by individuals not only destroy bricks and mortar, but often priceless artefacts that have historical significance to our nation.”

Extinguishing the risks

To help manage the risk of an arson attack and help to protect the country’s cherished historic churches, Ecclesiastical’s risk experts have issued advice to churches.

These include:

  • Keep your church secure: At night lock your church doors, windows, and any external gates. Installing security lights and keeping the exterior well lit will deter intruders. Also, consider installing fire alarms, intruder alarms and CCTV that provides continual monitoring to an alarm-receiving centre.
  • Report suspicious activity and make your church look busy: Use the building as much as possible for church and community activities.
  • Practice good housekeeping: Keep internal doors shut and locked when not in use, this can slow the spread of fire through a building and prevents access to obscure areas. Safely store items that could start fires inside the church, for example portable heaters and matches, and move bins away from the outside of the building. Take particular care when building or maintenance projects are being undertaken, ensuring building materials and waste are stored safely, securely and well away from the building.
  • Carry out regular external inspections of your church buildings and grounds: Make regular checks to the building and report damage to the police and your insurers as soon as possible. Cut back vegetation on a regular basis.
  • Repair damage to the church immediately: A damaged building is at risk of further attacks, including arson. Ensure any damage is repaired and graffiti removed quickly.
  • Check your fire extinguishers: Check you have enough fire extinguishers including some that are water (hydro-spray) or carbon dioxide types.
  • Be prepared for fire: Keep up-to-date fire risk assessments for your premises. Consider ways in which deliberate fires could be started and how you can prevent or reduce the risk.

Mr Whyman continued:

Churches are legally required to carry out a fire risk assessment and in doing so they’ll be able to understand the risk of fire – including the risk of an arson attack. It is really important that steps are taken to prevent fires and by following our guidance you can help to reduce the risk of arson at your property. The good news is, many of the recommended safeguards don’t require capital investment but simple precautionary steps which could make all the difference.

Our Risk Management team are on hand to assist our customers and bespoke guidance and support is available through our Risk Advice Line as well as general guidance available on our website.

A full list of Ecclesiastical’s arson prevention advice can be found at the company’s website, www.ecclesiastical.com.

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