£10.7m fund to support 66 at-risk churches

(Photo: Church of England/Colin Watts)

Some 66 churches and cathedrals nationwide are to benefit from grants totalling £10.7m.

The Government's Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage is to distribute the grants to a total of 16 cathedrals and 50 parish churches that were financially viable prior to Covid-19 but are now at risk of failure because of the pandemic. 

The fund is administered jointly by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England, with grants ranging from £10,000 to £1m. 

Tourism is normally an important way of generating income for historic churches, many of which have significant running and conservation costs, but Covid-19 has drastically reduced visitor numbers, pushing many into financial difficulty. 

The grants will help these churches and cathedrals stay afloat and cover the costs incurred by the pandemic, so that they can retain staff and plan for the future. 

Additional grants will go towards major works needed to keep historic churches safe and open to the public, preserving the jobs of specialist builders and craftsmen. 

Becky Clark, the Church of England's Director of Cathedrals and Church buildings, said: "The 16,000 church buildings we care for are witnesses to all parts of the history of England and usually tell those stories to more than 10 million people a year who come through our doors.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on communities all across the country, affecting both lives and livelihoods.

Great Witley Church, near Worcester, normally relies on income from concerts and donations for its upkeep. But Covid-19 forced the cancellation of all its concerts, putting the historic church at financial risk.

"The grants announced today as part of the Culture Recovery Fund will go directly into those communities, allowing iconic buildings to remain open, protecting jobs and giving breathing space to plan for longer-term recovery.

"There is a great deal of uncertainty ahead, but this funding will help churches and cathedrals to be places of refuge, rest and strength for all."

One of the churches to benefit from the scheme is Great Witley Church, near Worcester, which has been awarded £37,500. 

With its stunning baroque interior, the church traditionally relies on concerts and donations from visitors for its survival, but Covid-19 forced the cancellation of all concerts. 

The church now stays open for only four hours a day but even when not in use, the building must be kept heated and aired to prevent any deterioration to the priceless painted windows and ceiling.

Churchwarden Angela Snow said: "We were thrilled to hear that our funding application has been successful. The grant will cover the costs of maintaining the church until the end of March 2021 and will provide funds to ensure that when it is able to fully open again there will be a full concert programme and new digital displays telling the history of the church and the once grand, but now ruined, Witley Court which adjoins it.

"It is absolutely vital that this precious heritage site is maintained for future generations and we are looking forward to the enhanced education facilities that we will be able to provide for visitors."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: "As a nation it is essential that we preserve our heritage and celebrate and learn from our past.

"This massive support package will protect our shared heritage for future generations, save jobs and help us prepare for a cultural bounceback post covid."