One of the keys to ensuring the long-term future of historic places of worship is regular maintenance. Unfortunately this essential work is sometimes neglected, forgotten or done badly, leading to problems that require expensive repair.
The first step in maintaining a place of worship is the regular clearance of gutters, downpipes and other parts of the drainage system. Blocked gutters and drainpipes prevent water flowing away from the building, causing water damage to stonework and internal decoration. English Heritage recommends gutters, gullies, downpipes and drains are cleared at least once a year, after the leaves have fallen in autumn and before the winter storms.
A checklist for an appropriate gutter clearance routine is available on this page.
Although a lot of maintenance tasks can dealt with by congregation members, it is often more practical to employ a building contractor to undertake the work.
Three local schemes have been set up to help congregations arrange for regular gutter clearance and other minor works by reliable contractors. The areas covered are the diocese of London (Church of England buildings only), the diocese of Norwich (Church of England buildings only) and the counties of Suffolk and Gloucestershire. Other groups of congregations have made similar arrangements at a local level.
If a charge for VAT is incurred through maintenance work it may be eligible for refund through the Listed Places of Worship Scheme.
Faith in Maintenance
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) ran a training scheme called Faith in Maintenance, supported by English Heritage. Free one-day training sessions were held all over the country and the website provided advice and guidance. Although the scheme ended in 2011, English Heritage has given additional funding to enable further training days to be offered to meet continuing demand. SPAB is now developing a new project that will help volunteers share skills locally; for an outline of the new proposal see its project blog.
Produced as part of Faith in Maintenance, ‘The Good Maintenance Guide’ is a practical handbook which helps volunteers to understand and look after their place of worship. It is available by calling 020 7456 0913 or online via the SPAB website.