News & Insights // Appeal for emergency Government funding to support churches

The Bishop of London has said that some of England's oldest churches are in such disrepair that they will close without an emergency cash injection of £60 million.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres yesterday urged the Government to increase grants to repair and maintain "some of our most medieval jewels", reports the Daily Telegraph.

As churches struggle with declining congregations they face an annual repair bill estimated at £120 million, with a backlog of repairs totalling £373 million.

The bishop said: "There is a real question whether the achievements of the tens of thousands of volunteers who help to maintain our churches are sustainable.

"If no extra money is forthcoming we will see a spate of church closures and losses to whole communities of buildings that cannot be sustained.

"The Church of England is responsible for 45 per cent of the Grade I listed buildings in the country and it is time that the Government recognised the vital role played by local churches in communities across the country."

Bishop Chartres will present a paper to the General Synod next month outlining the crisis facing the Church of England as a result of a fall in repair grants from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Bishop compared the £26 million grant it has received this year to spend on its 13,000 listed churches with the £23.1 million grant the Arts Council gives to the Royal Opera House alone.

He called on the Government to recognise that the role of churches today went far beyond the worshipping community. Besides benefiting Christians, they were a venue for mother and child groups, judo classes, amateur dramatics and food fairs.

"In rural areas, the church building can often be the only one available for community use when schools, shops, pubs have gone," he said. "The potential of church buildings to help deliver essential services in rural areas is only starting to be realised."

The Church of England has long said that the Government's role in maintaining churches falls far short of the levels provided in other European countries. In the absence of sufficient Government funding, historic churches seek money from donations, campaigns and bodies such as English Heritage.

English Heritage said it was committed to securing the future of historic churches and was conducting research to identify ways to raise congregation numbers. A spokesman said: "We agree that the £26 million per year available for repairs to listed places of worship under the joint English Heritage and Heritage Lottery Fund places of worship scheme is not enough but this is currently the limit of our funds for this repair scheme.

"The results of this research will enable us to identify how best to keep our parish churches alive and thriving and help us to make a cast iron case to the Government for greater financial support."

The story in the newspaper accompanies an editorial which suggests that the maintenance of church fabric is "too much of a job for the established Church."

"The Government must take this burden upon itself, for the sake of the nation, to save these incomparable landmarks of its culture" the paper says.

The Church of England has assets and land worth over £4 billion, which others say the church should sell in order to raise funds to support its creaking infrastructure.

However the church has recently found itself in hot water over the proposed sale of some of the housing that it owns.