There are approximately 14,775 listed places of worship in England. These buildings provide spaces for worship as well as social and community events 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.
The Current Situation
In 2014, English Heritage has completed a comprehensive survey of the county's listed places of worship to give us a full picture of their condition for the first time. This has been made possible through close collaboration with the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church, which own the overwhelming majority of these buildings.
In total, 6 per cent (887) of our listed places of worship are on our Heritage at Risk Register. Others are vulnerable to becoming at risk, with the main threats being failing roofs, gutters, downpipes and high level stonework. Carrying out simple and regular maintenance is essential to preventing these buildings declining into a poor or very bad condition.
For a national picture of places of worship at risk, see the image gallery on the right-hand side of this page.
The Challenge Ahead
English Heritage recognises that the care of historic places of worship relies heavily on worshipping congregations. Since 2008, we have funded the creation of 33 Support Officer posts throughout England. The Support Officer role has proved successful in helping congregations look after their buildings, giving them access to a wide range of skills and advice.
We provide specialised technical advice to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the management of their Grants for Places of Worship Scheme. This scheme provides funds for urgent structural repairs, offering grants from between £10,000 and £250,000.
Another important initiative is the Maintenance Co-operatives project, which is being run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings through significant financial assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The maintenance co-operatives will allow those volunteers involved in the care of places of worship to share ideas, resources and good practice, as well as benefiting from peer-to-peer support.
We are also monitoring heritage crime to help focus support where it is needed most and so, in partnership with local authorities, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service, and faith groups, reduce the damage done to much loved sites, buildings and landscapes.
Understanding what is architecturally and historically significant about a place of worship is key to being able to conserve its special interest. English Heritage is currently working alongside the Church of England to create an on-line application system and Church Heritage Record, as well as with the University of York to create an on-line template and provide free advice to help all denominations and faith groups to prepare Statements of Significance for their buildings.
English Heritage is also carrying out specialist research into particular types of historic building, including Meeting Houses and Nonconformist Chapels, Mosques and 20th century churches. This evidence base will be an important tool in enhancing advice and informing decisions relating to changes to places of worship.
1. The National Heritage List for England is the official record of listed historic sites in England but assets, including places of worship, are added to it and moved almost daily. This can be because of change of use (from worship to secular functions), addition of new listings or removal due to delisting.