Pioneering New Way To Fund Historic Churches Saves More Than 50 Centuries of History and Keeps Vital Community Services Open

With increasing numbers of churches facing closure, a heritage hero has helped raise £1 million to pay for urgent repairs at 18 historic churches across the UK. Is this a new way that churches across the UK could be funded to stop them falling into disrepair?  

The 18 ‘Last Chance Churches’ all had one thing in common: they were in desperate need of funding to keep their buildings open and serving local people.  

The £1 million was made possible thanks to a £500,000 donation from a private donor to the National Churches Trust, the UK’s leading independent charity helping churches, chapels and meeting houses remain open and in use. 

This incredible gift led to an outpouring of wider support – with more than a thousand ordinary people, businesses and trusts matching this donation and raising more than £1 million for struggling churches. 

Leaking and storm damaged roofs can now be repaired, towers saved from crumbling, precious stained-glass windows preserved and modern facilities, such as accessible toilets, can be added to ensure the churches are able to continue to serve local people. 

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said: 

Churches are the beating hearts of communities. It is estimated they provide £55 billion a year in social good. If a church is not weatherproof and watertight, there is only so much they can do. Making vital repairs to these 18 iconic churches means that they will be able to stay open and in use for the benefit of local people. Food banks, warm spaces, community cafes and other vital services that are a lifeline for the community will now be kept open.

All of these churches have communities that depend on them and were desperate to stay open. One of the churches we’ve helped – the oldest Catholic Church in the Valleys – has had to close 25 per cent of its church and can no longer run a warm space due to the failing roof.  This money is making a tangible difference to local communities right across the UK. Every church that is kept open keeps a community alive.

This campaign provides proof that the public think that the UK’s historic churches, the services they provide, and their heritage are worth investing in.

Churches kept open 

Fr Andrew Teather, Vicar of St Stephen on the Cliff church in Blackpool, located in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, which received funding for urgent roof repairs, said: 

St Stephen’s is the only public building in the area, so it is of great community value to the residents and those who come seeking work in the summer season. In a town of great material poverty, we provide many services which otherwise would not be available. It is worth stating that if we did not complete this work, we would soon be unable to use the buildings, so severe was the damage. Thank you to the National Churches Trust for helping us to repair, grow and flourish for our community, both as we are now and as we will be in the future.

Read more from the churches about how this funding has helped keep their church open.

Pioneering a new way that churches could be funded 

The UK has some of the most historic and beautiful churches, chapels and meeting houses to be found anywhere in the world. But more will close, ripping away vital community services, and destroying local heritage, if urgent action is not taken to fund repairs: 

  • In England, there are now 900 places of worship on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register – with 53 more added in 2023.  
  • In Wales, 25 per cent of historic churches and chapels have closed in the last decade. 
  • The Church of Scotland is actively planning to close as many as 40 per cent of its churches. 

Private philanthropy has an increasingly important role to play in helping to keep historic churches open and in good repair. Thanks to the generosity and imagination of a dedicated supporter of church heritage, we are delighted to pioneer how this can be successfully done through our match-funded ‘Last Chance Churches’ appeal. 

There is an opportunity to generate more private donations through tax relief or other financial incentives. In France, President Macron recently launched a plan to provide €200 million for repairs to historic churches over four years, with new tax incentives that effectively quadruple the value of private giving.  

In the UK, ways to increase private giving to church buildings could include a state matched funding scheme, with the value of donations doubled. 

Sir Philip Rutnam, Chair of the National Churches Trust, said: 

The UK’s churches include nearly half our most important historic buildings. At present the burden of caring for this heritage falls almost entirely on local people – the same people who run an astonishing array of community services.  

This is not sustainable, and it is clear that the future of thousands of buildings will be at risk unless we move quickly to a new approach. Our campaign has shown the potential for match funding and philanthropy to play their part in responding to the growing crisis.  

The next UK Government urgently needs to act and set up a matched funding scheme that galvanises different sources of funding and secures these incredible buildings for the future.

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