Restoring a church during the COVID pandemic

In 2019 the National Churches Trust awarded St James Church, Leckhampstead, Berkshire a £15000 Cornerstone grant towards a major five year project to restore the church.  COVID restrictions caused severe disruption to work and costs increased.  Church warden, Michelle Martin explains how the Friends of the National Churches Trust came to the rescue.

Photo: John Lord

St James Church is an usual but beautiful Victorian building designed by S.S. Teulon in brick and flint, which contains artefacts from all ages including an eleventh century font, fourteenth century bell, Jacobean pulpit and Georgian altar rails.  However, many other critical elements were showing their age and needed urgent attention.

Our Five Year Plan

In 2015 a five year plan was developed. Stage 1, the restoration of the front porch and boundary wall was successfully completed in 2017.  Fundraising for Stage 2, the Roof Appeal, commenced in June 2018 and £220,000 was raised by the end of 2019.  Initially we were just looking at replacement of the roof but as the project progressed it became clear it had to include the repair of the stained-glass windows and an upgrade to the lighting.

Steel support beam added

This stage was finished in May 2021, requiring additional funds of £40,000.  The National Churches Grant was the final grant received and enabled us to reach our target. As a result, we have been able to re-tile the roof, make the building weather-proof, improve the roof insulation, and resolve the structural movement in the roof and walls.  The church is now no longer on the National ‘Heritage at Risk’ register.

The Friends Vote Grant rescued us

The project was by no means “textbook”.  Covid happened just after the scaffolding was erected in March 2019 and as the roof was taken off tile by tile, first a bat appeared, and then more and more problems were revealed – rotten beams, leaks, decayed brickwork, and damaged guttering, to name but a few.  Work was put on pause, but the costs kept on running.  The National Churches Trust came to the rescue again in helping us when we received a Friends Vote grant to cover Covid costs and an additional grant to help fund additional work, such as the repair of the trusses supporting the tower to stop it falling down.  We are so grateful to the Friends of the National Churches Trust for voting for us, these grants made all the difference, enabling us to start the project and then helping us finish the work.  Some contingency was included in the scope of work, but a pandemic was definitely not one of the scenarios accounted for. 

The reality is that managing projects of this size is very stressful at times from design and faculty application, fundraising, through to building works, project management and sign-off.  There was no magic formula, just the tireless hard work, commitment, energy and support of the PCC and the Fundraising Committee, and all those who supported us including Trusts, donors, the community and all who worked on the project with us. Leckhampstead is only a small village of about 300 and we were lucky to be able to build a team of volunteers to organise local fundraising, research grants, develop grant application writing skills, manage budgets and projects, and develop good working relationships with architects, builders, and specialist craft-people.

Fundraising is a continuous challenge

St James is like many small churches and has many costs both running costs (clergy costs, energy bills, and insurance) and capital costs (building works and repairs). With lower congregations and donations, ageing buildings, increased regulation, and higher costs, fundraising is a continuous challenge.  Normally pre-Covid most of our annual church running costs were funded from regular worshipper donations and local fundraising and we hope this will resume in the coming months.  Our reserves were used up in the building work and so future capital projects will need to be entirely funded through Trust donations and grants.   Post-Covid, it is a similar but different world, with the fundraising landscape no easier. 

We are now commencing Stage 3, the installation of an efficient heating system, flexible seating, and additional facilities, which is planned to start in 2022. It continues to be a journey of peaks and troughs and many false horizons, with unexpected problems requiring creative solutions, the odd moment of despair but in the end sighs of relief combined with triumphant highs. 

We thank Michelle for her insight into what it has been like to manage a church building project through a pandemic. More information can be found on the St James website.

Churches – where people seek to do good.

In a special guest post, Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, Priest at Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London, shares with us his views on the church as a place where people have always and continue to, do good within their communities.

‘Yea because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’ Psalm 122, Verse 9

“I have a desk in church. Sometimes I wonder, especially if I ever glance across a bank statement in the midst of my work, whether this is wicked of me. Would Christ come in today and over turn my desk for a furtive look at my online banking app?

I hope not – for I am not alone in my appropriation of God’s house but instead am surrounded by legacies of this building’s rich and varied use. The high altar stands in front of its rich marble reredos as a statement of the centrality of sacrament rendered in stone and in the corner behind me boxes of toys and books sit as testament to the role of new life in inheriting and learning the ancient faith in their new generation.

Brass plaques and stained glass speak, in rich Victorian prose, of lives lived in august splendour and next to them temporary notices about hand wash and distancing whisper of the strange confines of the lives we must needs live now.

All of these are, I suppose, marks of people. All these fixtures and fittings were planned and paid for, used and loved, wept over and celebrated, by creatures of flesh and blood.

Living stones

It has been a worryingly popular false dichotomy circulating of late which would suggest that people and buildings represent an ‘either/or’. That either the building or the people are ‘The Church’. Of course it is more complex than that. The church is a building, but one quite unlike any other: that is to say it is living stones. It is a building shaped entirely by people; by their hopes, their grief, their prayers. By people, and by their relationship with their God.

Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London

Our churches, therefore, are monuments to interconnectedness. To the idea that – to quote the priest-poet who had oversight of perhaps our nation’s most famous church, St Paul’s – ‘no man is an island, entire of himself’. Rather, we are linked by our history, common human tragedies and joys, and by an incarnational faith, which undergirds the whole. ‘Because of the house of the Lord our God : I will seek to do thee good’: that vision of the church is one that grounds it in relationship and community. The house of God is a sermon on ‘love thy neighbour’ wrought in brick and mortar.

Many churches seek to do good to their communities. I look from my desk in church today, cold though it is and in the midst of this lockdown, which for so many had proved more bitter than any flurry of winter snow, I see a house where people have long sought to do good. The very walls seem patched together with memorials- some to my taste, others less so- but all to those who sought to do good. There are less explicit memorials here too: the slight wearing of a pillar, its stone gently touched each week by one who loved its specific place, the shallow trough in the paving where the gate bolt has dragged for well over a century- a gash in the stone itself standing testament to gates open and welcomes extended.

Small ordinary goodnesses

Despite our present situation, it is a house where people still seek to do good today: lavatories are open as a clean and safe place for those who spend their day on the streets, a collection for our local foodbank is ready to be delivered, careful preparations are underway for a funeral, so that the dead might be commended to the eternal with the love by which they were known whilst alive. Small, ordinary goodnesses perhaps- but ones to which it is ever more important that we cling in times as drear as these.

Our church is very typical in this regard. It aspires to be a house of good because it is first and foremost a house of prayer and across the nation I see and hear of churches doing exactly the same, each and every day. As we seek to rebuild our society, seek to be more aware of where it is we might do good, the houses of the Lord our God- and the people who make them what they are- will be as important as ever. When I leave my cold desk in a moment I shall pray for them all just before I leave, and for all those- the National Churches Trust in particular- who support them.”

We thank Fergus for sharing his thoughts. Thousands of churches and chapels across the the UK currently seek to do good work within their communities, as documented in our House Of Good report produced last year which highlighted the social and economic value of church buildings.

As well as being a clergyman, Fergus is also author of ‘A Field Guide to the English Clergy,’ a Best Book of the Year for The TimesMail on Sunday and BBC History. More information available at One World Publications.

Thomas ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ Gray’s Tercentenary

One of Buckinghamshire’s hidden gems has been brought to life by the Thomas Gray Anniversary Project.

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and academic. His Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is arguably the most famous poem written in the English language and is believed to have been written in Stoke Poges, a village with which Gray had a close association throughout his life and where he was buried. 2016 marks Thomas Gray’s Tercentenary.

240px-Stoke_Poges_Church

St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges

Started in 2012, the project worked to restore Thomas Gray’s tomb in St Giles’ Churchyard, Stoke Poges, carry out conservation work on the Monument and introduce a new generation to that much-loved poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

Although nearly 5 metres high, the “plain, square block of stone of good size, without ornament or embellishment” which lies at the heart of the Thomas Gray Landscape in Stoke Poges is often overlooked.

This has now changed with the installation by the National Trust of the Thomas Gray Landscape board which welcomes visitors to the site and draws their attention to the legacy of this unassuming poet who penned one of the world’s most famous poems, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”.

On 9 July 2016, the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt. Revd Alan Wilson came to Stoke Poges to unveil the board and engage the attending audience with his explanation of the importance of this poem and its message concerning the contribution of every individual to the common good and the transitory nature of celebrity.

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

The Bishop of Buckingham studies the new information-board about Thomas Gray in Stoke Poges

Diana le Clercq, a key player in organising the Stoke Poges Village Thomas Gray celebration was delighted to welcome volunteers who had worked on improving the landscape around the Monument and several of the children from Stoke Poges School who had participated in the Thomas Gray School Expeditions started in 2012.  Alex Kurtis who was there with his sister Sarah and their grandmother Pam Oliver is now a student at John Hampden School, founded in the name of a famous Buckinghamshire man who is mentioned in the Elegy.

“Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast

The little tyrant of his fields withstood”.

 

The Thomas Gray memorial

The Thomas Gray Memorial, Stoke Poges

Visitors enjoyed picnics by the Monument where the Burnham Concert Band played, tours of the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens where teas were served by the Friends and visits to the Bell Tower after the bells rang out to invite people to attend the unveiling at 3 pm. The afternoon finished with a short programme of music and readings in St. Giles Church.  The day was the culmination of a project that started several years ago.

Readers interested to learn more about the Thomas Gray landscape are invited to attend the Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens Heritage walk which will take place on 11 September as part of Heritage Weekend.

More details

How to film a church spire

We’ve just launched our ‘Save our Spires’ campaign to raise much needed funds to help repair church spires at risk.

Save our Spires

Save our Spires

As part of the campaign we’ve produced a video to explain just why spires are so important. The amazing aerial photography in the film was produced by Kestrel-Cam, which provides remote aerial photography and video using radio-controlled UAVs, or drones, throughout the UK. The company uses the very latest multi-rotor drone aerial platforms, all equipped with professional stills cameras and video recording equipment. This allows them to offer aerial drone photography, filming and video services to a wide range of clients. The type of project that they can get involved in includes: photography and filming for estate agents, commercial property aerial photography, film & TV aerial video for the likes of the BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

They are often asked to do aerial surveys of tall structures which would otherwise be difficult, or expensive, to reach.

In our case we asked Kestrel-Cam to come and take high definition video of the newly refurbished spire at St Michael and All Angels Church at Chetwynd.

The cost of erecting scaffold to gain access to such tall structures would be prohibitive but with these modern drones the job can be completed quickly and cost effectively.

In fact pretty much any sort of aerial photography can be achieved by these remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles which can legally fly up to 400 feet. What was once work for camera equipped helicopters can now be carried out by these high tech drones and at a fraction of the cost.

The company is CAA approved to do commercial aerial work within the UK and have been operating their drones for a little over 2 years.

Further information on the company can be found on their website

Or contact Duncan Armstrong – 07791 864890

National Rural Crime Network survey

Police at churchSadly, our beautiful places of worship are sometimes victims of crime.

Thanks to the many dedicated organisations helping to care for and support places of worship much progress has been made in keeping heritage crime, including attacks on places on worship, on the national police agenda. However, we need to keep up the good work.

In response to concerns from people living and working in rural areas, the National Rural Crime Network is launching the biggest ever survey of rural policing and crime, and we hope that the results will provide evidence to support our pressure to make places of worship as great a priority as farm theft and other issues with which the police are more familiar.

The National Rural Crime Network survey has received Home Office funding to undertake the rural crime and policing survey. The on-line survey will run for about five weeks and it is hoped that the findings will help shape and inform:

  • awareness of crime in rural areas
  • appropriate crime prevention
  • government policy
  • policing and partnership activities

The survey provides an opportunity to raise public awareness of crime and anti-social behaviour within the historic environment and to provide data to  help the police to integrate heritage crime into their core business and working practices. Although it is a national project and clearly not aimed specifically at places of worship it does give everyone the chance to make their case and it would be good if the places of worship perspective could be well represented in responses.

If you care for a place of worship in a rural area, please consider taking part in the survey:

http://www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/research/internal/national-rural-crimes-survey-2015/?member=NorthYorkshire

 

For more information about security and personal safety in places of worship please explore our new website Resource Centre.

And for some recent good news from the Churches Conservation Trust, showing that stolen items can indeed be recovered by Police if they have enough information.

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