Priority please for our places of worship
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