National Maintenance Week 2014

In a special post to mark the upcoming National Maintenance Week, guest author Kate Streeter Project Manager of SPAB Maintenance Cooperatives tells us about their plans for launching the week and encouraging ongoing maintenance.


What do a ladle, rubber gloves and a pair of binoculars all have in common? They are all part of our cheap and cheerful essential maintenance kit, and this November we are going to show you how they can help you to take care of your place of worship at the very first Maintenance Co-operatives Project national conference: From Gutter to Spire. The conference is in York on Friday 21st November and tickets are free from

A stitch in time saves nine, and nowhere is this more true than for our places of worship, where we estimate that for every £1 not spent on planned preventative maintenance will likely cost £20 in emergency repairs.  This is where the Society for the protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Maintenance Co-operative Project steps in.

clearing gullies at sgrawley.jpg largeThe project team are working hard in four regions (Cumbria, The North East, Lincolnshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and Dorset and Somerset) to bring together places of worship with volunteers who would like to assist with their upkeep, to form Maintenance Co-operatives.

Each co-operative is supported by a dedicated SPAB member of staff, offered tailor-made training and access to an array of resources.  The training begins by taking participants through the process of carrying out a condition survey and using this information to write an annual maintenance plan.  It also covers topics such as working with architects, dealing with damp and when to bring in professional help.

A year into the project and we have co-operatives springing up all across the country busily working to ensure the long-term future of their historic buildings.  We are delighted that many of the volunteers involved, places of worship, and representatives from our hugely supportive project partners (who include The National Churches Trust, Caring for Gods Acre, Arthur Rank Centre, English Heritage, and major funders the Heritage Lottery Fund) are coming together in York this November for the very first Maintenance Co-operatives conference.

blocked gully.jpg largeThis is a wonderful opportunity for those already involved to share ideas, and for those new to the project to find out more.  A packed scheduled of speakers from SPAB and our partners will be followed by fascinating York walking tours, the opportunity to put your maintenance concerns directly to our dedicated technical advisor, and of course a sociable drink in the pub to finish the day.

We very much hope that you can join us, tickets are free and there are a limited number of travel bursaries of up to £100 available to volunteers, so book soon!

Kate Streeter

SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project Manager

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:


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