Keeping Church Buildings Alive

BEFS Trustee, Jocelyn Cunliffe, reflects on the content and discussions at BEFS recent workshop, ‘Keeping Church Buildings Alive’.

BEFS, in partnership with the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust (SRCT), Scotland’s Churches Trust (SCT), The Princes Foundation and with the financial support of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), ran a pilot Workshop on Monday 23 April 2018 at Renfield St Stephen’s, Glasgow, with the title ‘Keeping Church Buildings Alive’. This was described as a legacy project of BRICK – the BRICK (Building Resources, Innovation and Community Knowledge) Programme was an innovative four-year-long education programme designed by The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (now part of The Prince’s Foundation) ‘to build skills, provide expertise and improve connections’ – a UK-wide programme which ran until March 2018.

BEFS’ Director Euan Leitch introduced the event and explained that it was directed at anyone who manages a church or might in the future manage a church.  Just over twenty organisations who own or manage churches attended. The audience was divided approximately 50/50 between community groups and faith groups.  A survey which was sent to all participants prior to the Workshop identified the three topics that people most wanted to know more about: searching for funding, including for maintenance; generating income and what makes a successful funding application; and how to make your building warmer and cheaper to maintain.

Raymond Young, Chair of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, took as his title ‘Historic Churches – New 21st Century Partnerships?’  He pointed out that the Church of Scotland’s estate includes 4,000 + churches, halls, manses and glebes; it owns the largest collection of listed buildings in Scotland and is a dynamic estate with church buildings being closed, disposed of and new ones built.  He predicted that over the next 10 years the Church may need to get rid of 600 churches, of which approximately 60% may be listed. What is the future of these churches?  It is very unlikely that any more churches owned by the Church of Scotland will go into guardianship (as St Serf’s, Dunning) and be looked after by Scottish Ministers, but transference to a local trust, eg Govan Old, or to a community trust, eg Portobello Old, where Action Porty, who achieved the first urban community buy-out, with the Scottish Land Fund contributing 94% of the purchase price, are working to develop the church and halls as a community asset, may be models.  We need to focus on the potential of churches and look at new funding and leasing arrangements. What happens if a SCIO fails? Why can’t the Big Lottery fund a faith-based organisation?  Raymond’s talk raised many questions and pointed to a variety of ways forward.

The next speaker, Dorothy Hoskins from HES, described HES’s experiences of community engagement in relation to the Engine Shed, Stirling. She was followed by Judith Roebuck of the Church of Scotland’s Committee for Church Art and Architecture (CARTA) whose talk was on achieving church closure and what might happen to the contents of closed churches. She explored the relationship between the heritage and religious worlds. Once the building is no longer in use for worship ecclesiastical exemption from the need for listed building consent for interior alteration ceases. Paul Jardine of Jura Consultants in ‘Consider Your Audiences’ looked forward, considering the ways of maximising the uses of the building, thinking about SWOT analysis and community or potential user surveys, comparator analysis and competitor analysis.  In quantifying demand, look for the larger market, and come up with a range of options to generate enough income to sustain the building.

After lunch there were tips from funders – Gordon Barr of the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) emphasised ‘read the guidance notes’.  The AHF offers advice, grants and loans but does not fund churches in full time religious use.  Stuart Beattie spoke on ‘Scotland’s Churches Trust – Happy to Help’ and their grant scheme. He was followed by Catherine Townsend of the National Churches Trust (NCT), formerly the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, which since 2010 has given over £700,000 to churches in Scotland.  SCT have an annual budget to recommend church projects to NCT.  Unusually the NCT offers grants for kitchen and toilets as they want churches to be available for community use.

Tiva Montalbano of The Prince’s Foundation explored community engagement. Attendees worked in groups to produce lists of activities and ideas for activities which take place in churches. Her advice included ‘start small, incremental growth is more sustainable’ and ‘keep people warm’. Identify those with influence (keep satisfied) and those who are interested (keep informed).  Look for allies and encourage people to opt in and engage with you. Victoria Collison Owen’s subject was ‘Unexpected Benefits: using Activities to Engage and Sustain’.  She showed how the SRCT has encouraged activities involving people who give meaning to the building.  At the exemplary restoration of St Peter’s Church, Sandwick, people were involved in the process of doing the work and the church’s history was brought back to life and shared.  Overnight stays, ‘champing’, offer a different way of engaging. At Cromarty East and at St Margaret’s, Braemar, new uses have been introduced, events animate the buildings – ‘there is no set list of activities and the only limit is your imagination’. The final speaker was Rosie Fraser, formerly of The Princes Regeneration Trust who went through the thought processes in ‘How to make your Project Sustainable’.  She looked at the project life-cycle, the development phase, the capital budget and the revenue budget, including contingency monies, staff funding , sundries (for items that are forgotten like vermin control or licences) the delivery phase and the operational phase. She illustrated her talk with two projects, the Montagu funerary monuments at St Edmund’s Church, Warkton, and Middleport Pottery.  At Middleport visitors have to accept that they have to pay. They underestimated the amount of income needed and the maintenance requirements associated with 40,000 visitor numbers over two years.

In summary – an excellent pilot workshop which was enjoyed by over sixty people from across Scotland and which will form the basis of further initiatives to address the challenges of Scotland’s ecclesiastical heritage, how to keep church buildings alive and in good repair.

Jocelyn Cunliffe, BEFS Trustee.

You can download the presentations from the range of speakers here.