'Glamping' pods could be the answer to cash-strapped churches' prayers
For churches struggling to get people through the doors on a Sunday morning, letting them stay overnight may be the answer.
As champing, basic camping in disused churches, has become increasingly popular, a new Church of England scheme seeks to profit from providing a more glamorous alternative. Instead of bedding down on an uncomfortable pew, guests will be invited to stay in luxurious oak 'pods' which sleep up to six.
For up to £890 a week, guests can enjoy their own state-of-the-art kitchen, flat-screen televisions, free wi-fi, wood-burning stove, under-floor heating and private bathroom. All a far cry from the frosty facilities church-goers in rural areas might be used to.
Those who hire the pods will enjoy exclusive use of the church during the week, but their stays will have to be tailored so they do not clash with weddings or Sunday services.
The scheme, which is being steered by the Archbishops' Council, is intended to meet the problem in rural parishes of shrinking congregations and mounting repair bills.
Ruth Knight, Environmental Policy Officer for the Church of England told The Telegraph: 'The aim is for small, quite isolated churches that don't have a community around them to be able to afford to maintain the building'.
Rural churches are 'among our most cherished architectural heritage sites', Price noted, and so need to be well looked-after. But their maintenance costs an estimated £100 million a year. The money raised from hiring out holiday pods could make a vital contribution to this expense.
St Michael's in Dulas, near Hay-on-Wye, in Herefordshire's Golden Valley, has been chosen as the first church to have a pod installed. The prototype, scheduled to open in 2019, is expected to cost £140,000. It is thought this cost will half as the pods are mass-produced.
The scheme faces mixed reactions. According to Tim Bridges, Church Building Support Officer for the Hereford Diocese, the people of Dulas are 'positive' about the idea. 'The church has been closed for ten years, but people are keen not to see the church fall down and want it to have a sustainable future'. The scheme is recognised by locals as being able to provide that future.
However, the proposal has been criticised by former Conservative Party chairman, Lord Tebbit: 'I don't think a church is an appropriate place for what would be such a secular use as this, not while it continues to be a working church'. Similarly, Anthony Kilmister, the president of the Anglican Association, described the scheme as a 'step too far'.
'It has the potential to destroy the prayerful atmosphere of many churches. I understand the need for money in the bank, but the spiritual ethos of these buildings must be preserved.'