Access means churches need to be open and welcoming

‘Access to Places of Worship in the 21st Century’ was the theme of the 2013 Historic Churches Liaison Group Conference, held at St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham on 16 May 2013.
Copy (2) of HCLG 2013 060Over 60 delegates from Local Church Trusts around the country attended and heard from an impressive line-up of speakers about the many different meanings of the word ‘access’. You can see photos from the Conference on our flickr site .

Ian Morrison, from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was the key-note speaker. The HLF now administers the Places of Worship funding stream. Applications for grants from this funding stream now need to take into account two outcomes: i) ensuring that heritage is in a better physical condition and ii) ensuring that more people and a wider range of people engage with that heritage.

This means that churches seeking HLF funding may need to create new ways for people to visit and understand a church by, for example, providing new guide books or digital interpretation tools. This has the potential to really help churches attract more visitors. You can download Ian’s presentation as a Power Point. Ian Morrison – Heritage Lottery Fund Presentation May 13

Heritage and architecture

Access increasingly means bringing more people into contact with places of worship. The latest census results indicate that although considerable numbers of people do still attend church, fewer people call themselves Christians. This is, in marketing speak, an ‘opportunity’ as there is a growing pool of people who have never been in these ‘strange buildings’ called churches .

This opportunity to ‘market’ the heritage and architecture of churches, and also tell the story of Christianity in these islands has been seized on by Stuart Beattie, from the Scottish Churches Trust (SCT.) He told delegates that the SCT’s ‘Pilgrim Journey’ initiative is proving extremely popular.

This national network of pilgrim routes focuses on the wish of both visitors and local communities to be able to access church buildings in a meaningful way – whether the visit be occasioned by spiritual or heritage motivation or both.

You can discover Pilgrim Journey on a dedicated website. Maybe an idea like this could spread south of the border and become a one stop shop for church heritage?

One of the most powerful talks was by Philippa Woodcraft from the Through the Roof charity. Philippa is blind from birth and she explained to delegates that many places of worship still have physical access issues which prevent people with disabilities getting into and around the building.

But an equal problem in some places of worship is the way in which people with disabilities are treated when visiting. Sadly, a few are still less than welcoming. Perhaps this is simply due to embarrassment or not knowing the right thing to do to assist someone with a disability? Luckily help is at hand from charities such as Through the Roof and more details about their work can be found on their website.

New Chairman will build on success

John Mills (l), Devon Historic Churches Trust the new Chairman of the Historic Churches Liaison Group with Tim Bridges, the outgoing Chairman

John Mills (l), Devon Historic Churches Trust the new Chairman of the Historic Churches Liaison Group with Tim Bridges, the outgoing Chairman

During the conference, Tim Bridges, who for four years has chaired the Historic Churches Liaison Group, handed over the reigns to John Mills, who is also Chairman of the Devon Historic Churches Trust. Tim also announced a change of name for the Group, which in future will be called the Churches Trust Form. The plan is to build on the success of the HCLG, ensure representation and input from all parts of the country and to make sure that the voices and needs of County and Local Church Trusts are properly represented to decision makers involved in the care and management of places of worship.

St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

Canon Edward Stewart, showing delegates around St Chad's Roman Catholic Cathedral

Canon Edward Stewart, showing delagates around St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

The day was rounded off with a fascinating tour around St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral by Canon Edward Stewart. St Chad’s was the first Catholic cathedral erected in England after the Reformation and designed by Augustus Welby Pugin In the 1960s, a number of the fittings, including Pugin’s rood screen, were removed and one can sense their absence. (The rood screen was re-erected in the Anglican parish church of Holy Trinity, Reading.) But the Cathedral is well worth a visit, not least to see St Edward’s Chapel, designed by Pugin’s grandson, Sebastian Pugin Powell.The chapel windows depict the fascinating history of the relics of St Chad.

PS. The Conference was supported by the National Churches Trust and thanks must go to Alison Pollard, Grants Officer, and to Suzy Minett and Georgina Rogerson for their hard work in making for such a successful and productive day.

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1 Comment

  1. I find people are suspicious of big fancy buildings that are only open on Sunday mornings for a private, mysterious meeting and indeed, would never even think they were allowed inside. It’s important to have regular open-church periods, to let people feel at ease with these thousands of buildings, and then it becomes easier to keep them open even longer and care for them as part of our heritage and society.



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