Places of worship provide worship, social and community spaces where people gather for a wide range of practical and spiritual reasons.
There's a sense in which these public buildings have "seen it all before" over many generations. They continue to accommodate celebration and grief, shared and private experiences, art, music, sculpture and toddler groups, political hustings, and self-help and addiction support sessions. These are significant spaces in which human experience has been and continues to be welcome.
Condition of Places of Worship
In 2010 a sample survey of about 2,000 listed places of worship in England showed that 11% were in poor or very bad condition. They had serious problems with roofs, stonework, windows and rainwater goods. The sample represented only a small proportion of the 14,500 listed places of worship in England.
In 2012 a total of 2,771 places of worship were assessed. Of those 17.4% were in poor or very bad condition. Grade I and II* buildings appear to be more vulnerable than Grade IIs.
English Heritage is delighted that five denominations have agreed to work in partnership to improve the information available. English Heritage funding to cover the costs has meant that the Baptist Union, Methodist and United Reformed Churches and the Church of England have brought in contractors to read through the five-yearly Condition (Inspection) Reports compiled by independent architects and surveyors.
This exercise will identify which buildings, according to those professional assessments, have serious problems. Similar information on Roman Catholic buildings is emerging from a long-standing review called Taking Stock.
The research will enable English Heritage architects, alongside experts from these denominations, to identify the really vulnerable buildings. By 2014 the condition of the vast majority of listed places of worship will have been carefully recorded.
Places of Worship on the Heritage at Risk Register
No building will be placed on the Heritage At Risk (HAR) Register without English Heritage's specialists making a further, more detailed evaluation and talking to those responsible for the place of worship in question.
The 2009 Cathedral Fabric survey collated the repair works identified by the cathedrals themselves as being required over the next ten years. Yet the fact that work is required does not necessarily mean that a cathedral is at risk. Large buildings often have elements that need repairing, but that does not put the entire building at risk.
Buildings will be placed on the Register if they show serious signs of:
- fabric problems leading to loss of historic significance for whatever reason, eg structural instability or decay
- loss of historic fabric through lack of maintenance or repair or neglect
- inherent design, material or construction defects, eg metal cramps
- damage to the integrity of envelope, eg roof failure
Note: A place of worship is a listed building in use as a public place of worship – not one that is closed or seeking new ownership or a new use. This is consistent with the definition that we have used for the Repair Grants for Places of Worship grant scheme.
How Places of Worship Will Come Off the Register
A place of worship will not be removed from the HAR Register unless the specific factors that put them at risk have been addressed and satisfactorily resolved. Work must be completed - a building will not be removed
the Register while work is still in progress, as if it is not completed it could leave it in a worse state than before
Equally, completion of one phase of work does not necessarily lead to a building being removed from the Register, as further phases of work may be required.
Impact of Heritage Crime on Places of Worship
In addition to the work of the Heritage At Risk programme, English Heritage is strongly committed to tackling Heritage Crime including arson, anti-social behaviour, graffiti, theft and vandalism.
Sadly the two often occur together at many places of worship. Current reports suggest that of those buildings now identified as being at risk, 18.6% have suffered from one or more of these crimes.
English Heritage will be monitoring this in the future and trying to find out whether crime tips vulnerable buildings into poor or very bad condition or whether buildings already at risk attract crime.
These figures for heritage crime identified as part of the condition assessments suggest a very significant rise in 2012 in the North East, although the police have had enormous success in reducing metal theft. In Yorkshire and the Humber, where the police have been equally active, there also appears to be a considerable reduction in heritage crime against places of worship.
Such apparent anomalies need to be monitored, not least to establish whether the information provided is accurate. One trend that the figures do reflect is the increase of heritage crime in the South West. All informal reports, as well as the experience of the police and insurers, confirm that the threat to the historic environment in this area is increasing.
English Heritage admires the commitment of the many congregations and individuals who keep historic places of worship in active use and is grateful to all those individuals and organisations who help to tackle the problems of buildings at risk.
By providing more information on heritage crime, we hope to help focus support where it is needed most and so, in partnership with local authorities, police forces and faith groups, reduce the damage done to much-loved sites, buildings and landscapes.