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Places of Worship at Risk

There are approximately 14,800 listed places of worship in England. These buildings provide spaces for worship as well as social and community events, allowing people to 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 and sculpture, 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

We work closely with faith groups of all persuasions to monitor the condition of listed places of worship.

In total, 6.3% (937) of our listed places of worship are on our 2017 Heritage at Risk Register. 115 places of worship have been removed from the Register in the past year, whilst 130 have been added. Entries on the Register include buildings which are generally in fair or good condition, but with a significant problem with one major element, such as the tower. Others are vulnerable to becoming at risk.

The main threats are failing:

  • Roofs
  • Rainwater goods
  • High level stonework

Carrying out simple, regular maintenance is essential to prevent these buildings declining into a poor or very bad condition.

The Church of St Philip and St James in Alderley Edge, Cheshire
The Church of St Philip and St James in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, is a Grade II* listed building, constructed in 1853 to the designs of the Manchester based architect JS Crowther. Identified as ‘at risk’ due to structure failure of the spire, repairs have now been completed with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Grants for Places of Worship scheme. The building was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register in 2017. © Historic England

The challenge ahead

Historic England recognises that the care of historic places of worship relies heavily on worshipping congregations.

Since 2008, we have funded the creation of more than 30 Support Officer posts throughout England. Support Officers help congregations look after their buildings, giving them access to a wide range of skills and advice.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has, through its Maintenance Co-operatives Project, created practical resources to support those caring for places of worship. These are an excellent starting point for local groups wanting to work together.

Places of worship are vulnerable to heritage crime. We're monitoring heritage crime to help focus support where it's needed most. We're working in partnership with local authorities, police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and faith groups to reduce levels of damage to much loved sites.

Although The Heritage Lottery Fund has now ended its grant scheme that was specifically dedicated to places of worship, it still welcomes applications from places of worship seeking to do repairs, develop facilities or welcome more visitors. Grants of up to £100,000 are available from Our Heritage and over £100,000 from the Heritage Grants programme but congregations are free to apply to any of the Heritage Lottery Fund programmes.

Understanding significance

Historic England supports congregations and faith groups using historic buildings, whether they were built as places of worship or have been converted for that purpose.

We offer advice on sensitively adapting spaces and installing new facilities so that places of worship can be used for a wide range of purposes. We helped to produce an on-line tool to help congregations to prepare Statements of Significance so they can understand what is important about their building.

We also provide technical guidance. This covers a variety of topics from building repairs to making places of worship more resilient to climate change.

We're working with universities, faith groups and other partners to learn more about the following:

  • Buildings being used by the Society of Friends and other Nonconformist congregations
  • Hindu, Jain, Zoroastrian and Baha'i built heritage
  • Roman Catholic and Church of England parish churches

A guide to the range of places of worship and their architectural and historic significance is available online. We have also commissioned major books on Nonconformist chapels(Chapels of England. Buildings of Protestant Nonconformity, published October 2017) and mosques ('The British Mosque: An Architectural and Social History' for publication early 2018).

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