£360,000 Christmas boost for historic churches

The National Churches Trust has announced £360,000 in funding for the preservation of historic churches.

The fresh funding will be shared among 17 places of worship in England, Scotland and Wales. Among them are nine churches on the English Heritage 'At Risk' Register.

It brings the total awarded by the Trust to churches, chapels and meeting houses this year to £1.5million.

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust said: "At the heart of the nation's history and landscape, churches, chapels and meeting houses are part of our heritage and are some of Britain's most loved local buildings.

"So this Christmas, when people visit a church for carol singing, a Christmas service or even to buy some charity cards, I hope they will take a moment to think about how they can help ensure that churches remains open, safe and welcoming for the rest of the year as well.

"Everyone who cares about local churches can make a contribution to their future. That could be by becoming involved in a church heritage or history project, by volunteering to help out as a guide or steward or even learning how to help clear the drains and gutters to help keep the church watertight."

Most of the funding requests were for repairs to roofs, stonework and towers, and the provision of toilets, kitchens and disabled access.

The Grade I listed Collegiate Church of St Mary de Castro, Leicester, will receive £40,000 to fund major repairs to the church spire. The church is on the English Heritage 'At Risk' Register and is historically significant. King Henry VI was knighted in St Mary's in 1426 and it is thought that Geoffrey Chaucer was married here. The body of King Richard III may have rested at the church briefly after the Battle of Bosworth. Photo available

Almeley Wootton Friends' Meeting House, in Herefordshire, will receive a £40,000 grant to enlarge the building and provide community facilities. The Grade II* listed building has been continually used by the Society of Friends since it was adopted by the Society in 1672. It has historic links to William Penn and Pennsylvania with several members of the meeting being the first settlers of the new colony and signatories on the first constitution.

The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury and Chair of the National Churches Trust Grants Committee said: "Churches are at the heart of their communities and bring people together in a way that makes life better.

"In the current economic downturn it is crucial to keep churches repaired - If a church roof leaks, then the building gets damaged and you get a bigger problem.

"The National Churches Trust also helps support work to make places of worship more usable, such as installing kitchens, toilets and access for the disabled.

"We want churches that are being put to good use, not just for congregations but also for the wider community."

Despite the payout, the National Churches Trust warns that a growing funding gap is threatening the future of the UK's church buildings.

It is calling for more people to get involved in their upkeep.

Ms Walker said 2012 had seen an increase in the number of places of worship applying for grants, up from 618 in 2011 to 678 this year.

"In 2012, the National Churches Trust has seen that more of the UK's Christian places of worship face a funding gap," she said.

"The economic slowdown means that places of worship applying to us for grants have less money to cover the costs of running their buildings.

"It is now rare for a church to be able to pay for major repairs and modernisation, which often runs to many hundreds of thousands of pounds, without external funding support."

She expects the need for funding to increase in 2013.

"Next year, I hope that more people will join our growing number of Friends and support our work so that the National Churches Trust, an independent charity, can continue to invest in the future of the UK's churches, chapels and meeting houses," she said.