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.

What a difference a year makes…

From:

To:

Yorkshire, HUDDERSFIELD, St Peter (Sarah Crossland 2013) #018

I’m humming Dinah Washington whilst reflecting that one of the many really lovely parts of my job is that I get to go out and about and visit churches. Most of the time this because they have applied for a grant, so I don’t always see their best side… however, when I get to go back and see just what a difference our funding has made it’s truly worthwhile.

Last week I went back to see Huddersfield St Peter and met with the Vicar, a very happy Revd Simon Moor.

2011

When I first visited this impressive Victorian town centre church in 2011 it was in dire need of major works to parts of the roof and to stonework along the north and east walls. The two vestry roofs needed re-slating and new leadwork, and internal drainage needed replacing to prevent the considerable water ingress which was taking place. Stonework was in dire need of repair and replacement, including to windows (mullions and hoods) and walls, and two pinnacles on the east door were leaning considerably. Also, the whole east end needed re-pointing to remove concrete and other harmful mortar.

In 2012 we awarded the church a £40,000 Cornerstone Grant to complete the major repairs to the fabric of the building to safeguard it for the future. This grant was only made possible by the support we in turn receive from Friends, donors and trusts and foundations.

2013

This month I visited again and was delighted to see the extent and quality of the work undertaken to repair the fabric of the building, particularly to the roofs and stonework of the vestries and the east end.

The church members have a long term vision for their building and its place in the town.  They have plans for making the space open and accessible, and for encouraging use of the building by a wide range of groups and individuals. Having completed this major phase of repairs, they are now able to for more activities and events, and be sure that the fabric will sustain them for many years to come.

The church is continuing to fundraise for further repair projects, including more repairs to stonework, if you would like to find out more please visit their website.

For more information about becoming a Friend of the National Churches Trust, and helping to save and secure churches like Huddersfield St Peter please download our membership leaflet.

Advice for a new churchwarden…

The best known new churchwarden in the country is in at the deep-end, raising money for the church roof.

Dot Branning Churchwarden

Dot Branning, newly appointed churchwarden of the church on Eastenders, has a lot in common with her real-life counterparts in feeling a small amount of panic in facing this daunting task.

Within the Anglican church, of which Dot is part, churchwardens are often legally responsible for all the property and movable goods belonging to a parish church. The realisation that they are responsible for a the daily upkeep of a major community space, together with the possibility of having to do major work to a building of significant heritage value can make the job seem very daunting.

However, help is at hand.

In an email to Dot last week, I detailed the support and advice we can give to churchwardens (and of course their counterparts within other denominations, and indeed anyone involved in caring for a place of worship).

It might be that Dot needs help with finding funding for the roof, or project managing the work to be done. She might want to set up a Friends Group or (somewhat ironically) encourage TV&film use of her church. Or she might need technical advice on caring for and maintaining an old building, or adapting it for community use.

All of these subjects are within the remit of my role as National Support Officer. So if, like Dot, you would like some advice please email me on sarah@nationalchurchestrust.org

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Over the years the Eastenders crew have filmed at a number of churches in and around London (mostly around Watford). Most recent, was a church in Hertfordshire, where the funeral of Derek Branning was filmed. You can see pictures from the filming here.

You can watch the episode where Dot becomes churchwarden here.

What is most important about churches and places of worship?

Hot on the heels of the ‘The Church in Action’ a report from the Church Urban Fund which highlights how churches support their local communities: Andrew Brown in the Guardian reports on how in Tyne and Wear faith is about the only thing left for those in poverty, according to organisations trying to help.

It goes without saying, that both buildings are where local people worship. That is for their congregations their primary purpose. But what do you think is most important about places of worship in 2013. Above is a poll to find out what you think? Do please take part.

At the National Churches Trust we provide a range of funding and support to Christian places of worship throughout the UK.

These include Repair Grants to help places of worship become wind and watertight, and which are, perhaps more about safeguarding the heritage of churches, chapels and meeting houses. But we also provide Community Grants which offer help towards the cost of installing essential facilities, such as kitchens and toilets, improving access for people with special needs/disabilities. These mean that places of worship can be used by more people, thereby providing benefits for congregations, local people and visitors.

There are around 47,000 Christian places of worship in the UK. Many are ancient buildings, full of history and rich with artistic and architectural majesty. For example, in 2012 we gave a £40,00 repair grants to the Collegiate Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester, Leicestershire (Grade I Listed) (On the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ Register).

Described as “the jewel of Leicester’s churches”, King Henry VI was knighted in St Mary’s in 1426 and it is also thought that Geoffrey Chaucer was married here. Perhaps the last reigning monarch to worship in St Mary’s was King Richard III, and his body may have rested at the church briefly after the Battle of Bosworth. Our Cornerstone Grant will fund major repairs to the church spire.

Others are more humble buildings, perhaps like the North Shields Baptist Church, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, which we recommended for a £20,000 grant DCMS Community Grant in 2012. Vital to the local community, our grant to this church will pay for a new toilet for men, a separate, accessible toilet and re-laying the drains running from the toilets, kitchen and courtyard. There is a continuing and steady growth in both community use and church use of the building. The project will enable the church to better service the needs of current users. It will also make possible new uses such as a drop-in centre for refugees, many of whom are men.

Not just a children’s corner…

Yorkshire, MONK FRYSTON, St Wilfrid (Sarah Crossland 2012) #002Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful church of St Wilfrid, Monk Fryston near York.

I was there to help assess their application for funding from the National Churches Trust, for repairs to the stone tile roof of the church. However, whilst there I was struck by the warm welcome I was given by everyone there to meet me, and by the obvious community involvement with the church – particularly the close relationship between the church and local children.

The evidence of their work and involvement with the church is all around the building, quite literally when you realise that around the walls of the nave are drawings and paintings of the Vicar by local schoolchildren.

Yorkshire, MONK FRYSTON, St Wilfrid (Sarah Crossland 2012) #045Revd John Hetherington told me ‘The pictures were part of a competition by the Year 1 & Year 2 children to see who could paint the best picture of ‘Me’. It was done in November of this year and there were prizes for the best three and these were presented in school a couple of weeks ago. Many of the kids from school also attend the St Wilfrid’s Sunday Club’. What was especially lovely was the care with which the drawings were displayed… neatly but with pride of place, and adding to the warm welcoming feeling within the building.

Yorkshire, MONK FRYSTON, St Wilfrid (Sarah Crossland 2012) #038Looking more closely, at the east end of the north aisle is a wonderful ‘reredos’ created from fired clay tiles – each created by a child from the Church School (Monk Fryston Church of England Primary School). They were completed two years ago in the summer of 2010, with each child did an image of what ‘God’ meant to them personally. Once the slides had been kiln-fired they were divided, with half were placed in the church and the other half in the entrance to the school.

These projects are brilliant, one permanent and one temporary but both enhancing and confirming the relationship between the church and local children. This is one of the most important things a village church can do. Local children will form the backbone of the community who will one day care for the building, encouraging them to see it as ‘theirs’ is vital.

So, if you are ever up near Monk Fryston why not pay a visit to this beautiful and engaging church.

Church History:

There is evidence that there was a pre-conquest church on the site and in all probability Archbishop Thomas re-built the church around 1080. Building work continued into the 15th century and  on the 12th May 1444 the then Archbishop issued a commission to John, Bishop of Philippopolis to dedicate and consecrate the parish church and churchyard at Monkfriston. There is documentary proof that would suggest the church was originally dedicated to St Mary. In two 16th century parishoners’ wills they state – William Wheldale in 1547 desired to be buried “in the church yerde of our ladie in Monkfriston” and Ralph Horsman in 1553 “within the churche of oure blessed ladie at Monke Friston”.

You can pick up a full history of the church when you visit, as I did.

Church Roof Project:

With such a long history, it’s not surprising that the church roof and parts of the tower have now developed more leaks than there are buckets to contain them and essential restoration work needs to be carried out to rectify this. Of course, this does not come without a considerable cost implication, and whilst English Heritage have generously offered a grant of £110,000 towards the repairs, an additional amount of around £50,000 is still needed.

Unfortunately the National Churches Trust was unable to offer St Wilfrid’s a grant as our grant programmes are always greatly oversubscribed for the amount of funding we have available to distribute.

But, the church has established a fundraising and events group ‘Wilfileaks‘. If you can help with their efforts please get in touch with them directly.

Yorkshire, MONK FRYSTON, St Wilfrid (Sarah Crossland 2012) #025

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