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Places of Worship at Risk

There are approximately 14,810 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

We work closely with the Baptist Union, Church of England, Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church and United Reformed Church to monitor the condition of listed places of worship.

In total, 6.3% (926) of our listed places of worship are on our 2016 Heritage at Risk Register. This includes buildings which are generally in fair or good condition, but have a significant problem with one major element, like 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.

Grade I St Luke's church in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire dating to the 15th century.
St Luke’s Church in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, is a 15th century Grade I listed building. Identified as ‘at risk’ in 2014 because water was leaking into the church, repairs to the nave roof 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 2016. © 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' Maintenance Co-operatives project is an important initiative supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Maintenance Co-operatives allow volunteers caring for 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. 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.

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 adapting spaces and installing new facilities so they can be used for a wide range of faith and community purposes. We also help to produce an on-line tool to help congregations prepare Statements of Significance.

We also provide technical guidance. This ranges from conservation advice, to advice upon making buildings more resilient to climate change, increasing energy efficiency and other practical matters.

We're currently working with universities, faith groups and other partners to learn more about buildings being used by the Society of Friends and other Nonconformist congregations, Muslim communities, Buddhists, Roman Catholic and Church of England parish churches.

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