Inspiring churches and Heritage Open Days

Sarah Holloway
Sarah Holloway


Our Guest Blogger Sarah Holloway, Heritage Open Days Co-ordinator, writes about Heritage Open Days events at churches.

Model making, morris dancers, bubble blowing and a punk rocker. Not things you would usually put together I suspect, but all connected as part of Heritage Open Days events at churches this year.

Once a year this annual festival of heritage and culture offers people an opportunity to see and experience something not normally available, and for the hundreds of faith sites taking part it’s a great chance to open doors to new audiences.

Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days

From digging out and displaying your parish registers, to hosting exhibitions of wedding dresses , holding organ recitals or giving people the chance to experience speaking from a pulpit; there is so much that churches can offer visitors. By thinking creatively, involving music, arts and family history, sites can provide a new reason for people to come to the building. And once over the threshold visitors are often amazed at what they find inside – be it stunning architecture, fascinating history, a peaceful haven or a welcoming community – encouraging them to return.

Inspiring highlights

Here are just some of the many inspiring events being held at faith sites across England as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days…

Forever blowing bubbles… St Paul’s Parish Church, Sale, Greater Manchester have organised a wonderfully festive day for visitors. There will be music and dancing as well as tower tours and the parish registers on display. And lots of fun for children too, activities including a dressing up box, a storyteller, and bubble blowing!

Punk rocker turned window designer… Frettenham Church, Norfolk are offering the chance to meet the artist who created their Resurrection window. One of our blog team wrote about this last year (The punk behind the window) and is planning a follow up piece after this year’s event. So a good example, not just of a creative event, but also of using social media and different networks to promote it.

Reading, Heritage Open Days 2012Working on a theme… In Dorking, Surrey, events are taking inspiration from the anniversary of WWI. The Quaker Meeting House has a thought provoking exhibition of artefacts, letters and photographs, focusing on the story of one conscientious objector. They will be engaging children in the story with model making of refugee houses and a soundscape to match a slideshow. Whilst at St Martin’s Church, the local folk club and friends will be taking visitors through a selection of songs, prose and verse from the period.

Working together… Heritage Open Days is well established in Cheetham Hill, Greater Manchester and they use the festival as an opportunity to bring sites and communities together. This year there is a heritage coach tour taking in five different faith sites, a temple a synagogue, a mosque and two churches.

Unsung heroes

These are just a handful of the creative events taking place at faith sites this September. At the heart of all of them though are the brilliant teams of dedicated volunteers. These amazing people should never be underestimated, their passion and enthusiasm can turn the smallest event into the most special day. So a huge thank you to all who take part. And if you aren’t one of them this year, please do go out and support them, maybe you’ll be inspired for next year!

Heritage Open Days take place from 11 – 14 September 2014 .You can search for more events and find out how to get involved at the Heritage Open Days website


Willis Pipe Organ restoration_c2_Anna Page

Saving Ecclesiastical Textiles

By Dr Brenda King, Chair of the Textile Society

When doing research over the last few years I have become increasingly aware of a serious and growing problem related to the future of historic ecclesiastical textiles. Textiles, as I am sure you are aware, are probably the most fragile of all the decorative objects in a church interior, yet, they often come last in the list of priorities.

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

For various reasons more and more very beautiful pieces, most of which are exquisitely embroidered, are being made redundant, or soon will be. I have direct experience of a number of very large embroidered items that are homeless and are literally kept under beds while awaiting their fate. This problem will not go away, in fact it will predictably become much worse and most museums are too full to take what are often very bulky items.

Although many exquisite items are still in use some are under threat due to the imminent closure of churches, or poor storage conditions. Holes in church roofs directly affect vulnerable cloth and thread, while mould and insect damage is costly to prevent and treat and generally unaffordable for most parishes, especially rural ones with declining congregations.

Objects embedded with many histories

These beautiful objects are embedded with many histories and it is, therefore, reasonable to think that they should be everyone’s responsibility not just the concern of parishioners. I do feel strongly that the historians of the future will never understand why we failed to do something when presented with such overwhelming evidence.

I am sorry to raise the voice of gloom but I do feel that more people should be made aware of the current situation. As Chair of the Textile Society I have suggested that we should consider acting in some way to help. In the first place I thought we should begin by simply discussing what the problems are and identifying potential solutions. The Textile Society will hold a study day that will highlight good practice, present case studies and offer some practical guidelines. This will be funded by the society and will take place in London in Spring 2015. Details will be finalised soon.

Regional textile centres

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

Ecclesiastical Embroideries

Meanwhile, I would be keen to hear from anyone who knows of ecclesiastical textiles under serious threat, or who is aware of good practice that has prevented or solved problems. We would welcome information about projects which demonstrate different forms of action.

Meanwhile, should we encourage the setting up of regional centres where textiles, and other archive material such as needlework samples, designs on paper and other related documents could be stored, exhibited, used for research and workshops? Obviously such a solution would be costly. Has anyone any other workable ideas?

Your thoughts on this are most welcome and if you are interested in attending a study day,  please contact me using the e.mail:


Virtual technology for churches

Modern technology for opening, interpreting and using churches is getting easier and cheaper to use… 

Guest blogger Chris Jones from LeicesterPhotoDesign writes:

There are three things I have a passion for, photography, technology and churches. This may seem an odd mixture but bringing them together results in opening our churches to a wider audience.

Photography has always been an interest, and since 2008 a profession, I also have been visiting my local churches and completing photography of the interiors and exteriors for my own project on Leicestershire & Rutland churches and others across the UK. In 2012 I was approached by Google to launch their Google Business Views project with 360° imagery of ‘business interiors’ using their streetview technology – basically bringing their streetview views inside.

In August 2012 I completed the first church in the UK at St Mary de Castro in Leicester giving them a Google 360° virtual tour for their spire appeal. From there I have spoken at various conferences on this new technology and its place in helping churches gain a wider audience. Since then I have completed many churches with the 360° tours and recently we created a tour for St Wulfram’s in Grantham.

We were approached by St Wulfram’s to highlight their spire appeal and to create a 360° tour of the church for embedding on their website. Because this is Google’s streetview technology we can extend it from the street and ‘walk’ to the church as below, you can also make it full screen by clicking the ‘view larger map’ for a better effect. It also appears in Google Maps, Google search results and enables anyone from around the world to get a real insight into the church.

It also is easily embedded into websites and you can start the tour wherever you want to. We also advise adding some ‘life’ to 360° church tours, so at St Wulfram’s we organised the Cafe to be open and people (all faces are blurred for privacy) to be in the virtual tour to ensure that the church was not empty.

The photography took most of the day and over 2,000 images were taken to create the tour and it was on-line within a few days, as to cost I charge less than our commercial rates for churches as I have a real interest in them. There are also new enhancements being developed which I am really excited about. Moving around large virtual tours is a pleasure but can be tiresome clicking through all the arrows, what we wanted was a method to ‘jump’ to specific parts of the tour and have pop-ups and embedded information within the tours. This has now been accomplished and we are testing some new technology which allows this. You can see St Wulphram’s with and without this new feature here. At the moment it only works on desktops and laptops but smartphones and tablets will be supported shortly.

Technology is always moving on but at this moment we have some great tools to enable anyone from around the world to look around our heritage and churches like never before. I am sometimes questioned that “surely having such a tour means people would not bother to visit as they can now view it on-line”. I disagree, so many people look for for information on-line and many of our churches are locked or not easily accessible. This allows anyone to have a real insight into their local church or places they may want to visit. Perhaps more importantly your church is accessible to the worldwide public like never before. Google recently did a tour of Ankor Wat, now I know I am probably never going to physically get there, but at least now I can get better experience of this famous landmark.


From the church’s point of view: Don Sission from Silkstone All Saints has previously written about Google InsideView in his church. 

NCT Grants: we have given grants to both Leicester St Mary de Castro and Grantham St Wulfram. Find out more about our grants on our website.





Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use

Churches for Communities CoverTalking to those on the front line

Guest blogger Becky Payne writes:

Last summer, I had the enviable task of visiting 25 Oxfordshire churches, dotted all around that gorgeous county.

My visits were so I could write about the physical changes made to these buildings over the last 30 years – but ended up being about so much more than merely describing the addition of a toilet and kitchen or a meeting room.

What I was especially interested in (and why the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust commissioned me to write this book) was hearing the stories of the people who had come together to make those changes – the re-orderings, the introduction of new furniture and facilities, the creation of a modern worship space, or the efforts to provide space for a whole range of community activities and in some cases both.

I talked to the incumbents, churchwardens, fund-raisers, architects, and many other committed individuals who had been on the journey of developing a church and community building project within an historic structure. This raised not only the usual issues when adapting an historic building, but needed additional sensitivity because these buildings are viewed by many as sacred places, and are also greatly loved by their local communities – even by those who hardly cross the threshold!

Challenges faced

I asked them about not only about what they have achieved, but their vision, how they made it happen, how they worked with the wider community, how they raised the money, how they dealt with the authorities, and about the challenges they faced and the lessons learnt.

And they responded with pride, but also recalled periods of exasperation and those ‘remind me never to undertake anything like this ever again’ moments.

Many of these projects took years and involved endless meetings, fund-raising efforts and dealing with various authorities. These were interspersed with highlights such as when a project was awarded that crucial grant as well as awful set-backs such as the theft of the roof lead just after the works had been completed or the uncovering of the unforeseen additional (and very expensive) works.

I never ceased to be amazed at the huge amounts of time, energy and sheer stubborn tenacity that people gave to ensure that their churches remained open as places of worship and that more people were ‘crossing the threshold’ and making use of the buildings. Key to the success of many of these projects was the involvement with the local community. In many cases, the future running of the building is now shared with a community trust.

Special sacred space

Many of the aims of these undertakings were similar, but the solutions were always different and specific to the particular place of worship, which is as it should be. Some involved extensions, others were able to insert new facilities into a west end tower, while others created space in an aisle and, believe it or not, a good percentage retained some or all of their pews. When it works, and is well designed and crafted, the new additions enhance the beauty of the building which retains its sense of being a special sacred space. Many of these places of worship have undergone change many times over the centuries; as one church said ‘we looked into the history of our church and found that every generation had its own vision which determined how it laid out the building. We felt we were honouring this historic tradition by making it work for our generation’.  Even so, one of the major challenges faced by almost all of the churches in this book, was an initial and often strong local opposition to any proposal for change. Sometimes this came from with the congregation itself, sometimes from the wider community. Managing this required sensitive discussion over long periods of time.

Not all readers of this book will like some of the changes described, but at the very least I hope that I have explained how they came about, and showed how they are helping to sustain these very important buildings and give them a future. The intention of this book is to inspire other churches that may be about to embark on similar undertakings and hope that they will benefit from the experience of those who have gone before.

‘Churches for Communities: adapting Oxfordshire’s churches for wider community use’  by Becky Payne, is published by the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust. All proceeds go to the work of the Trust. 136 pages, 150 colour illustrations. (ISBN 9780992769307)

It is available through all good booksellers, including Waterstones Books Online and Blackwells Online Bookshop (both of which deliver free in the UK). It is also available from Amazon.

How your Church could become a filming location

A Guest Blog by Dr Nancy Sheridan

Many historic houses, castles and cathedrals are used as filming locations for feature films and television dramas. However, the number of such locations is finite, and the media are always looking for new locations.  Churches, chapels and meeting houses could be suitable locations and this could provide a new source of income for places of worship. In a Guest Blog Architectural historian and adviser Dr Nancy Sheridan explains how her work for Heritage4Media could offer help to churches seeking new income to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Heritage4Media (H4M) recently carried out 5 years of exhaustive research assessing the impact of the media sector to the sustainability of our built heritage.

Great Expectations PosterThis research not only revealed the enormous economic benefits and the amount of cash coming into the heritage sector from the film and television industries, but also identified that there was no communication channel between the heritage and media sectors, despite a clear reliance between the two.

Hence historic building owners who needed income for repair bills, and film professionals who needed new spaces to push their creative boundaries, could not find each other. There are of course location agencies that offer this service, however, the research also revealed that filmmakers are becoming far less able, or inclined, to pay vastly expensive location agency fees.

H4M is therefore now in the process of creating the most transparent communication network between historic buildings of all forms and functions, and the global film, television, and broadcasting industries.

Linking the media to buildings

H4M is absolutely not a location agency, i.e. we do not have vast databases of long forgotten clients, and more importantly, we do not charge the media fees for linking them to our buildings which is why we are being so well received.

Rather, we are a team of architectural experts and film advisors with a passion for sustaining our built heritage and the knowledge and experience to raise the profile of historic buildings to the media sector, particularly privately owned sites and ecclesiastical centres that often get overlooked in favour of institutionally-owned properties.

We recently met with the Head of Heritage Policy in Whitehall, and presented the findings of the research, and the aims and objectives of H4M, all of which were very well received. Equally, key individuals who run the guilds and bodies that represent the global filming industries are also fully engaged with what we are doing, and have described H4M as a “specialist”, “niche” resource that “will become a major addition to the international film industry”.

Help for your fabric find?

heritage 4 media

heritage 4 media

However, there must be an element of proactivity in order to make this happen. Therefore if you wish to consider the media sector as a channel towards your fabric fund, please get in touch with Dr Nancy Sheridan at H4M on 01666 822436 / 07736 364722, or Christopher Edwards on 07858 944438

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