Caring for Places of Worship

Churchgoing may be declining, but, according to an omnibus survey conducted for the Church of England, 85% of the adult population visited places of worship for some reason in 2009, whether for an event, personal interest or to attend a service. Many visitors will naturally have been drawn to them for their historical importance.

You certainly do not need to be religious to appreciate the significance of places of worship to the country’s architectural heritage. England alone has 14,500 listed places of worship (4,000 Grade I, 4,500 Grade II* and 6,000 Grade II). In fact, 45% of all Grade I listed buildings are places of worship.

Although the overwhelming majority of these listed church buildings are Anglican parish churches, many of them pre-dating the Reformation, a significant minority are Free Church. There is also a relatively small number of listed non-Christian places of worship, approximately one-half of which are synagogues and one-quarter mosques.

But what state are these religious premises in? In an attempt to improve its evidence base, English Heritage (the official champion of England’s historic buildings) has undertaken the first ever physical condition survey of a 15% representative sample of England’s listed places of worship.

Headline findings from the survey appear in Caring for Places of Worship, 2010, which was published by English Heritage on 30 June. The document is available to download from:

In the aggregate, 11% of listed places of worship were found to be in a poor or very bad physical state and thus potentially at risk. The figure stood at 14% for Grade I buildings and 13% for Grade II*, compared with 8% for Grade II. Thus, the most important places of worship are relatively in greatest danger.

Rural places of worship are also at more risk than urban ones (13% against 9%), although inner-city buildings are an exception to the rule in London and Birmingham. An above-average incidence of listed places of worship in poor or very bad condition was reported in the West Midlands, South-East and East, and a lower than average number in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North-East.

Of the 89% of listed places of worship not deemed to be at risk, approximately two-fifths were judged to be in good condition and the remainder in fair condition. Dr Simon Thurley, English Heritage’s CEO, described this finding as ‘a huge testament to the hard work and altruism of their congregations. They take on responsibility for their building in addition to their commitment to worship and community service, finding almost all the necessary funding from their own pockets.’

English Heritage simultaneously released results from evaluations of the impact of two major schemes to provide financial support for listed places of worship. These are the Repair Grant for Places of Worship Scheme (RGPoWS), jointly funded by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, and which has benefited 11% of listed places of worship since 2002; and the Government-financed Listed Places of Worship Scheme (LPoWS).

The evaluations were carried out by BDRC Continental through interviews in April-May 2010 with 100 recipients of RGPoWS grants and 300 recipients of LPoWS grants made since 2005. Summaries of the evaluations are published at:

For over three-fifths of grant recipients the repair and maintenance of their place of worship is a constant major concern. Grants helped them plan a more certain future for their building, avoiding more costly repairs later on, and also to increase the number of visitors and broaden community use. Grants further benefited the local economy since 90% of grant recipients exclusively used local businesses to undertake repairs.

In the case of recipients of RGPoWS grants, which are invariably for more than half the cost of the scheme, 76% claimed that they could not have completed the restoration work without help from the RGPoWS, and 30% that they would have had to close their building but for the RGPoWS.

Even for recipients of LPoWS grants, which are limited to 17.5% of the cost, 20% would not have been able to complete the repair and maintenance work at all without the LPoWS and 18% would only have been able to complete some of the work.

A parallel investigation by the National Churches Trust, which covers the whole of the UK and includes non-listed as well as listed buildings, is expected to report later in the year.

NOTE: In conjunction with the main survey, Jewish Heritage UK was funded by English Heritage to survey the state of 37 listed synagogues in England between March and June 2009. A separate report on this study, Synagogues at Risk, is available at:

This contains detail additional to an assessment of the physical condition of the building, including information about frequency of services, average attendance at services, and membership size and trends.

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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