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.

Keeping churches and memories alive at Christmas

Canon Roger Royle

Canon Roger Royle

By Revd Canon Roger Royle

If you are anything like me, memories are a very important part of Christmas. Some may be painful or sad but hopefully the vast majority will be warm, funny and strengthening.

As a child Christmas couldn’t come quick enough. But my mother made me wait. She took me to a church where carols weren’t sung in Advent. At home decorations didn’t go up until Christmas Eve and the Baby wasn’t put into the crib until we came back from Midnight Mass. This all added to the memories, the mystery and the magic of my childhood Christmas in Wales.

Memories also came flooding back to many of the people who, as part of our Diamond Jubilee celebrations chose their favourite church as part of ‘The UK’s Favourite Churches‘ initiative.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields

I wasn’t surprised that Campbell Robb, the Chief Executive of Shelter chose St Martin in the Fields. Here is a church that very definitely practices what it preaches. It was out of the work that St Martin’s did and still does for the homeless that Shelter was born. This Christmas I expect the demands on both Shelter and St Martin’s will be as great as ever.

A delightful memory

Camila Batmanghelidjh (provided by PA, no stated copyright)If ever there is someone who is a kid at heart it’s Camila Batmanghalidjh, the colourful founder and director of Kids Company. Her favourite church is one I also love and have often worshipped in, Sherborne Abbey. In choosing that church Camila had a delightful memory. When she was at boarding school she used to hide in a cupboard so she didn’t have to go to church.

The late Rosalind Runcie, whose husband was Archbishop of Canterbury said once that too much religion made her go pop. Well that certainly isn’t true of a good friend of mine, Gloria Hunniford. In selecting her favourite church she chose one to which as a child, she went five times a Sunday, St Mark’s Portadown. It was also the church where her daughter Caron, who died of cancer, was christened. So, for her, St Mark’s will bring back sadness as well as joy.

Keeping churches alive

May I wish you many happy memories this Christmas and again thank the many Friends and supporters of the National Churches Trust for all that they do. It is through their support that many of the churches people remember with affection from the past are kept alive today.

Roger Royle presents the Christmas Day early morning programme on BBC Radio 2 

If you would like to support the work of the National Churches Trust, please visit our website.

Help us build a better website

Community for blogCan you help us create a better website for the National Churches Trust?

We really want to have a website that is easy to use and is matched to the needs of people who are use and involved in caring for churches, chapels and meeting houses and also interests and inspires people who have a passion for the UK’s amazing heritage of Christian places of worship.

To help us, could you complete a short online survey which asks you about the National Churches Trust and our current website. If you complete the survey, there is a chance to win a copy of ‘The Church Triumphant’ by Bob Moody. This wonderful book contains charming watercolour reproductions of English churches and chapels and is a must for church, art and heritage lovers alike.

Just click on the link to start the National Churches Trust website survey .

Thank-you very much.

‘Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas’ – The importance of church toilets

Yesterday we held three Focus Groups with Friends of the National Churches Trust to help us better understand what our supporters value about our work.

It was a fascinating day, and we’re really grateful for the time and effort of Friends who took part.

Much of the work of the National Churches Trust is in providing grants to repair churches, chapels and meeting. That allows places of worship to deal with things like fixing leaking roofs, repairing stonework and generally making sure that church buildings are safe and sound.

Our Friends told us that the reason this work is so important is that it enables places of worship to carry on serving both worshippers and also the wider community.

They also told us that our community grants, which help pay for things like new and accessible toilets, kitchens and heating are also vitally important.

For example, having a modern and accessible  toilet means that members of a congregation can stay for longer after a service has finished and not have to rush off home to use the ‘conveniences’.  Interestingly,  according to our Focus Groups, that is an increasingly important matter as congregations in some places of worship get older,  and  may also be more important  for women than men.

Modern and accessible toilets also means that a church can both run and host more activities, whether those are  meetings, clubs or charity events. (One of the most recent DCMS Capital Grants we recently recommended was to help improve drainage and install  a new accessible toilet at North Shields Baptist church.)

Although he was talking more broadly about public health, in the 19th century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech saying “A great scholar and a great wit, three hundred years ago, said that, in his opinion, there was a great mistake in the Vulgate, which, as you all know, is the Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures, and that, instead of saying, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” — Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas — the wise and witty king really said, Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas.”

Judging by the remarks of our Focus Group about the importance of church toilets, it seems as though Disraeli’s words are ones worth bearing in mind when we consider how best to ensure the future of places of worship.

If you have any thoughts on the importance of modern facilities such as kitchens, heating and toilets to places of worship please do let us know.

 

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