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Region’s churches at risk after vital Heritage Lottery Fund programme is scrapped

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:05 29 April 2017

Members of the Friends of Gissing Church. The church, which is renowned for its beautiful ceiling angels, has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in recent years. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Members of the Friends of Gissing Church. The church, which is renowned for its beautiful ceiling angels, has received money from the Heritage Lottery Fund in recent years. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2016

The region’s historic churches have been put at risk after a decision to scrap a vital Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) programme for places of worship.

Gissing Church has a rare example of an Angel Roof, the church is dire need of renovations after part of the outside wall developed cracks which could lead to collapse. Picture: Sonya Duncan Gissing Church has a rare example of an Angel Roof, the church is dire need of renovations after part of the outside wall developed cracks which could lead to collapse. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Norfolk is said to be richer in historic churches than any other British county, but many of the more than 650 centuries-old buildings are in need of repairs.

And there are fears that by scrapping the £25m Grants for Places of Worship fund as planned in September, the HLF will leave many churches in need of desperate works with nowhere to turn.

Instead of applying through the fund, places of worship will have to apply under the HLF’s overall heritage programme, which funds everything from war memorials to surveys of endangered animal species.

It comes as new research has revealed that more than half of people in the East of England would consider the closure of their nearest church a significant loss to their community.

St Marys Church in Carleton Forehoe. The 15th century church is one of many Norfolk churches which have benefitted from  Heritage Lottery Fund grants. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN St Marys Church in Carleton Forehoe. The 15th century church is one of many Norfolk churches which have benefitted from Heritage Lottery Fund grants. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

George Hammond, lay chair and fabric officer of St Mary’s church Gissing in south Norfolk, said he was disappointed by the announcement.

Mr Hammond said over the past few years St Mary’s had received £238,500 from HLF, which is being used to repair its crumbling walls, rebuild the church’s parapet, install heating and make other improvements.

He said: “It’s a great shame that facility is now going to be lost. You will still be able to apply for a grant, but you will be vying with museums, art galleries, and projects that might be in the middle of a city.

“Without the HLF, many churches would have nowhere to turn to apply for these sums of money.”

Philip Richardson, the lay chair of the Barnham Broom and Upper Yare group, said the decision could hit all of the group’s 15 churches. Mr Richardson said: “It will make it even more difficult to repair these small rural churches which don’t have access to other funds.”

Scilla Latham, secretary of the Norfolk Churches Trust, said the county’s churches held countless treasures, and it was crucial their repair and upkeep continued to be funded.

She said: “They stand like giant milestones across the landscape and are an essential part of understanding the history of our county, which once lost could never be replaced.”

New funding structure

Between 1994 and March 2016, HLF has invested more than £18.3m into 216 projects at places of worship in Norfolk, both through the Places of Worship fund and other programmes.

Under the HLF’s new structure, churches will have to apply through an existing Our Heritage programme for grants of up to £100,000, or a Heritage Grants fund for sums of up to £5m. A HLF spokesman said: “In addition, under the new arrangements, 100pc of works and activities can be funded with no requirement for partnership funding; and with 50pc of the grant paid up front, congregations can get on with their work immediately, helping with cash flow. Congregations often do not have access to the professional fundraising skills that some larger heritage organisations can draw upon.

“We will therefore be closely monitoring our awards to ensure that places of worship continue to be at least as successful as they are under existing funding arrangements.”

Survey reveals concern for churches

How much do we care about our churches?

More than you might think, according to the results of a survey by church insurer Ecclesiastical.

The study revealed that 56pc of people in the East of England would consider the closure of their nearest church a significant loss, and 37pc would campaign to keep their nearest church from closing.

Meanwhile, 30pc of those surveyed would provide financial support if their local church was in financial difficulty.

Michael Angell, the firm’s church operations director, said: “We know from our own engagement with the church community up and down the country that the value and reach of churches’ work is on a scale that would be almost impossible to replace. Churches provide a wide range of community services from holiday clubs and parish nursing to food banks and mother-and-toddler groups, provisions many people rely on day to day.”

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