Renowned broadcaster Sir Michael Palin has thrown his weight behind a crucial campaign aimed at preserving the future of churches across the United Kingdom.
As the Vice-President of the National Churches Trust (NCT), he warns that without immediate action, a significant number of the UK’s churches, chapels, and meeting houses face the threat of closure.
The NCT has launched a comprehensive manifesto titled ‘Every Church Counts,’ advocating for an additional £50 million in public funds to secure the future of the existing 38,500 buildings. The Trust highlights a worrying trend, noting that over 3,500 churches have shuttered permanently since 2013, with many more at risk.
The manifesto outlines six key actions essential for ensuring the survival of these vital community spaces. These actions, formulated in consultation with the public and leading heritage and church organizations, include:
- Additional Public Funding: Calling for £50 million of public money to safeguard existing church buildings.
- Professional Support Network: Establishing a network of support officers to assist volunteers and clergy responsible for church maintenance.
- National Matched-Funding Scheme: Introducing a scheme to incentivize charitable giving.
- Tourism Strategy: Developing a strategy to increase tourism to historic churches.
- Extended Opening Hours: Advocating for regular opening of churches beyond worship times.
- National Planning: Collaborating with government, heritage organizations, and denominations to devise a national plan for church preservation.
Sir Philip Rutnam, Chair of the National Churches Trust, emphasized the importance of recognizing the social value of church buildings. He highlighted their role in hosting community services such as food banks and emphasized the need for public bodies to acknowledge and support these activities.
The NCT showed the significant social and economic contributions of church buildings, estimating their yearly value to the UK at £55 billion, which is roughly twice the total spend on adult social care by local authorities.
Sir Philip Rutnam noted the severity of the crisis facing the UK’s religious heritage, attributing closures to declining congregations and volunteer exhaustion from fundraising for repairs. He highlighted the disparity between the UK and other European countries, where state levies support historic buildings, while in Britain, the burden falls entirely on local communities.
Sir Michael Palin echoed these concerns, urging action to prevent the closure of many cherished church buildings. He endorsed the ‘Every Church Counts’ manifesto as a viable solution to secure the future of these historic landmarks.