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Crumbling churches are ‘UK’s biggest heritage challenge’

The National Churches Trust has launched a campaign to save the UK’s historic churches. Backed by the actor Michael Palin, it highlights the need for a national approach to address what the trust has called the “single biggest heritage challenge” in Britain.

Originally published in the Guardian newspaper, the National Churches Trust claims that Churches, chapels and meeting houses were under threat because of a shortage of funds and expertise to maintain them. This was putting important community services and social spaces at risk, including food and warm banks, it added.

To save church buildings, the trust has launched Every Church Counts, a “manifesto” of six actions. They include public funding of £50m for urgent repairs; expanding the use of church buildings for community services such as food banks, nurseries, youth clubs and warm spaces; and cultural activities including concerts, exhibitions and craft fairs.

Sir Michael Palin, the trust’s vice-president, said churches were “a vital and much-loved part of the UK’s history and we need to act now to prevent the loss of tremendously important local heritage … Right now, many church buildings are in danger of closure.”

More than half of the UK’s 38,500 churches, chapels and meeting houses are listed buildings, reflecting their importance to national and local heritage. But Anglican churches face a backlog of repairs of at least £1bn, and the annual cost of maintenance repairs is estimated at £150m.

Such work is the responsibility of individual parishes but few local clergy have expertise in building management or fundraising. The trust is proposing a network of professionals to support places of worship belonging to all faiths.

About 3,500 churches in the UK have closed since 2013, while more than 900 places of worship are on Historic England’s “heritage at risk” register. In Scotland, more than 180 are officially at risk, and the Church of Scotland is considering closing up to 40% of its churches.

The National Churches Trust also recommends a drive to boost tourism, appealing to UK residents and visitors from abroad. It says churches should be open beyond services, and seven days a week where possible, to allow them to “better connect with local people and attract visitors”.

Struggling, Closed and Closing Churches, produced by Guy Braithwaite for the Church Buildings Council (CBC), advises churches and dioceses on care, conservation, and development of church buildings and the struggles therein. It looks at the Council’s casework between 2004 and 2018 that you can read here.

To read the full article in the Guardian, click here.

For more information on Every Church Counts, visit their website here.

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