There are around 14,500 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 2013, the condition of 3,208 listed places of worship has been assessed. Of those, 16.7% were found to be in poor or very bad condition and as a result have been put on the Heritage at Risk Register. The trends indicate that grade I and II* listed places of worship are more at risk than grade II places of worship.
English Heritage is working closely with the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, Baptist Union, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church to find out more about the condition of places of worship.
This builds on the information gathered by the 5-yearly condition reports compiled by independent architects and surveyors and helps us to identify and support those buildings most in need. English Heritage aims to record the condition of the vast majority of churches by 2014 and assess those thought to be in poor or very bad condition.
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.
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 and the University of York to create an on-line template and provide advice to help congregations 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.