Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, has given the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Historic Churches Liaison Group.
Speaking at the Lumen United Reform Church in London on 18 May 2012 she highlighted the vital role places of worship play in the lives of local communities.
“Our national survey of church buildings, published last year showed that nearly 80% of UK places of worship are used for other purposes, including community activities such as the provision of nurseries and meeting places for voluntary groups and charities of all kinds. The survey also showed that around 40% of the UK’s places of worship are listed. As well as being places of great beauty, these buildings are also important cultural venues. It is estimated that nearly half are used for arts, music and dance activities. “
Sustaining local communities
"The way in which places of worship help to sustain local communities and provide a venue for charities and voluntary activity”, continued Claire Walker, “made the proposal announced in the Budget to charge VAT at the full rate on alterations to listed places of worship from October this year all the more surprising. Although this has been called by some ‘a heritage tax’ this was in fact also a community tax.”
Although she welcomed the government’s decision to provide a £30 million package to help churches hit by the planned imposition of VAT on alterations to historic buildings, she warned that the National Churches Trust would “need to see how effective the government’s compensation package will be in practice as funding allocated is cash limited. We will also press that the compensation package remains in place for the long term as the scheme will be guaranteed only for the duration of this Parliament.”
Working with Local Churches Trusts
The conference was attended by representatives of the largely county-based Local Churches Trusts and national heritage organisations who work to support churches in need. In her speech, Claire Walker suggested that more support and advice was required by those who care for church buildings, the vast majority of whom are volunteers. This support and advice, she suggested, could be provided by local co-ordinators.
“Places of worship are here, as we know, for the long term. Our churches, chapels and meeting houses are places where history has been made and where communities are built and sustained. Over these last few months, I have come to appreciate more fully the passion, commitment and dedication of so many volunteers across the UK who, like us, are keen to preserve our church buildings for generations to come.
“Access to professional support is ... of vital assistance to those who care for our places of worship and this is a way we, and others, can add value and spread best practice. This is particularly important at a time when there is a shortage of money for the funding of repair and community projects. “
“What we now wish to explore - in those areas of the country that would welcome it and where there are not already similar initiatives in place - is whether there is scope for the National Churches Trust to recruit local coordinators to work in partnership with Local Churches Trusts to enhance their work for all of our benefit. “
Also speaking at the conference was Sara Crofts from SPAB who gave an overview of the 'Maintenance Co-operatives' scheme. You can find out more about this new way to support volunteers caring for places of worship by listening to an audio of her presentation or view her powerpoint presentation.