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Helping congregations to take care of their places of worship

English Heritage is supporting congregations who want to look after their listed churches, chapels, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples mosques and meeting houses.

Listed properties come in many guises. However, what condition are England's listed churches and other historic faith buildings really in? What would most assist the congregations and communities to take care of their precious, and often unique, buildings? Most of the country's some 14,500 listed places of worship are in good condition and therefore a huge asset to their local communities – but this almost always due to the generosity and determination of volunteers.

Many buildings for worship are now incorporating crèches, cafes and even post offices, and are also used regularly for youth clubs, social meetings and a wide range of social events. This further cements their importance within their communities and makes them more viable as a structure. However, a great many more are struggling simply to keep open. The cost of maintaining these regal buildings in an ever present battle – not least because what makes them so special within our landscape is also what perversely makes them more costly to repair than less spectacular structures.

The Heritage at Risk programme is run by English Heritage and is currently carrying out a survey of Places of Worship at Risk. This is a national sample survey whose findings will be announced on 30 June, giving a picture of the condition of England's listed religious heritage and indicating the number of buildings at serious risk of decay. Most listed place of worship are Church of England (around 85%) and others include Catholic parish churches, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church and other Nonconformist chapels, Quaker meeting houses, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras. A surprising number of every day buildings have been converted into religious buildings – including schools, cinemas – and even shops!

Research will include looking at a 10% sample of listed places of worship of all types across the country. Congregations will be invited to join in discussions to learn how English Heritage can assist them to turn their building into one which can become less onerous. The new Heritage at Risk research on places of worship can be added to data held on the condition of England's heritage register – which includes listed buildings, registered parks, garden and battlefields, scheduled monuments and conservation areas as well as protected wrecks. An amazing 45% of Grade 1 listed buildings are places of worship – so much history contained in this one category alone. Eventually, England will be the first country in the world to have a comprehensive picture of its heritage at risk, and so be able to address the challenges that this represents.

Apart from the repair and maintenance of these structures, it is vital they are correctly insured. Listed properties of any variety need specialist insurance to ensure that should they need repairs to be undertaken due to accidental damage, etc that the correct type of craftsmanship can be carried out – using the specialist materials required. If you are involved in the management of one of our wonderful places of worship, speak with an insurance company who can advise on listed and unusual properties - and make sure an Act of God doesn't cause more headaches than you thought!

Posted on 11th May, 2010