Pri­or­ity please for our places of wor­ship

Country Life Every Week - - Athena - Cul­tural Cru­sader

LAST week, the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund (HLF) an­nounced that, at the end of this year, it will close its Grants for Places of Wor­ship pro­gramme (GPOW), a ded­i­cated fund for the re­pair of listed places of wor­ship in Eng­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land. A sim­i­lar pro­gramme run in con­junc­tion with His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land may con­tinue. In 2017, the money al­lo­cated in Eng­land un­der the scheme was £16 mil­lion.

Athena is deeply con­cerned. This change means that, for the first time since 1977, when English Her­itage (now His­toric Eng­land) in­sti­tuted fund­ing for this pur­pose, there will be no ded­i­cated fund for church re­pair from ei­ther the Gov­ern­ment or HLF (with the ex­cep­tion of the Gov­ern­ment’s grant scheme for re­im­burs­ing ex­pen­di­ture on VAT). Although the HLF was set up to be an ad­di­tion to Gov­ern­ment fund­ing, here, as in so many other ar­eas, it has largely re­placed it. From 2018, churches and other places of wor­ship will have to ap­ply for funds in the same way as any other build­ing from two other HLF schemes, Our Her­itage and Her­itage Grants.

Speak­ing to COUN­TRY LIFE, the HLF stated that this change is a re­sponse to com­plaints from places of wor­ship that the GPOW is too bu­reau­cratic. The cur­rent two-stage process—de­vel­op­ment fund­ing fol­lowed by the full grant— will, for grants un­der £100,000, be re­placed by a sin­gle stage. This raises ques­tions as to why the ex­ist­ing scheme could not sim­ply have been amended in the same way and why there was no con­sul­ta­tion about end­ing the GPOW.

In ad­di­tion, the HLF has stated that it will con­tinue to tar­get a spe­cific level of fund­ing at places of wor­ship. This has not re­as­sured the churches, who point out that a tar­geted fund is not the same as a ring-fenced one, es­pe­cially at a time when the in­come from the Na­tional Lot­tery is in de­cline, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for the HLF to agree a spe­cific level of fund­ing for places of wor­ship, even in the short term.

There­fore, de­spite the HLF’S prom­ise to ‘al­lo­cate’ money for places of wor­ship, these build­ings must now make their case for fund­ing in com­pe­ti­tion with other, of­ten bet­ter re­sourced, causes. In­deed, ru­ral par­ish churches with small con­gre­ga­tions, the build­ings that need help most, could be hugely dis­ad­van­taged by the change. So, too, might dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions. On the whole, the Church of Eng­land has re­sponded pos­i­tively to the idea that church build­ings might take on new com­mu­nity roles, such as shops and post of­fices, but Ro­man Catholic churches, for the­o­log­i­cal rea­sons, will not ac­cept such uses.

This dam­ag­ing change feels like a con­ces­sion to those peo­ple who can­not see why places of wor­ship should be sin­gled out for spe­cial treat­ment by the HLF. Athena thinks, how­ever, that our par­ish churches are, in­deed, a spe­cial case and de­serve na­tional sup­port.

‘Our par­ish churches are a spe­cial case and de­serve sup­port

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