Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 39 - 50)

TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2006

RT HON FRANK FIELD MP, MR CRISPIN TRUMAN, MR DAVID BAKER AND DR JENNIFER FREEMAN

  Q39  Chairman: For the second part of our session this morning we are now turning our attention to what might be termed the ecclesiastical estate. I would like to welcome particularly our colleague, Frank Field, who is Chairman of the Churches Conservation Trust, and the Chief Executive, Crispin Truman; David Baker, the Chairman of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches; and Dr Jennifer Freeman, Director of the Historic Chapels Trust, which I believe is also chaired by one of our colleagues, Alan Beith, who said to me that he was sorry he could not be here but obviously would be following our discussions with some interest. The churches comprise a significant proportion of our heritage and in particular of Grade I listed buildings and you are struggling to save as many as you can that pass into redundancy. Can you tell us something about the scale of the problem? How are you managing to cope with those that you already have? How do you see the future in terms of the number of churches that are likely to need help in the future and will be applying to you for assistance?

  Mr Truman: I think the question of redundancies, which is often the question that is asked, how many redundancies are we going to see in the future, is possibly a bit of a red herring. There has been a fairly stable number of churches becoming formally redundant, certainly parish churches in the last few years, 30 a year. Trevor Cooper, who did submit evidence to you, has predicted in a study by the Ecclesiological Society that it might reach 60 a year. It is a difficult game to predict because when the church is faced with crisis, perhaps more than any other heritage building, the local community really comes together to save it. What we do know is there are a lot of churches at risk and they are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Something else that Cooper pointed out in his book is the decline of participation in churches reflects the wider decline in public life. What you often see is an historic church now is the last public building in a community where it has lost its post office, its pub, its railway station many years ago. That reflects more a downward drift in commitment to public buildings. He identified 500 churches that have less than ten adults looking after them. Local people are completely in charge of these buildings, they fund them, maintain them and repair them. Sixteen hundred have only between 11 and 20 people regularly committed to the building. That is a symbol of the crisis we are facing. There are a lot of buildings out there really hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

  Mr Baker: There is one interesting angle on that. The Advisory Board for Redundant Churches deals only with Anglican churches and we are a reactive body; the Church Commissioners ask our advice as cases come through to them. As Crispin says, there is a steady flow. It is quite difficult to predict reliably whether things are going to get very much better or very much worse. One tendency we have noticed is for the Church of England to start doing area reviews of their church facilities, so instead of dealing with churches incrementally ad hoc, one here and one there coming up for redundancy in places like Brighton and Hove, for example, where a deanery-wide study was undertaken, that creates a lot more business, as it were, and possibly creates more scope for redundancy. A lot depends on how it is taken through and what balance is taken locally between heritage considerations, pastoral considerations and financial considerations.

  Dr Freeman: Could I just say something about the picture with the non-Anglican churches. It is reckoned that there are as many non-Anglican places of worship in England as there are Anglican. It is also thought that a large number of them are under-listed or under-graded and that is very much the experience of my organisation. There will be a lot of work for the new listing surveys in that area. Again, the picture is of a steady number of redundancies across the board, although statistics are hard to come by. Certainly the Methodists reckon that about ten listed buildings a year are becoming redundant. The Roman Catholics plan to make a lot of redundancies in the North-West of large churches which are not in centres of residential population any more. On the other hand, the Baptists do not get many redundant churches and the three we own are the three highly graded buildings which they have made redundant.

  Q40  Chairman: To what extent can you anticipate that because presumably you are in conversation with the Church of England about which churches are likely to be unable to continue in the long-term? Do you try and work with them to identify those and plan ahead so you do not suddenly have large numbers that come to you simultaneously out of the blue?

  Mr Truman: The Churches Conservation Trust takes its buildings from the Church of England so, yes, indeed we work very closely with the Church Commissioners because in the end they decide what comes to us. They have predictions. They do a three yearly survey of dioceses asking them to predict what might become redundant. I have to say they always give us a very strong health warning with these predictions. The predictions for the next three year cycle are of a fairly steady trend. I think perhaps one alarm bell that they are ringing, which fits with what David was saying about Brighton, is there are increasingly large numbers of Victorian, often urban churches that are the real problem churches that seem to be coming to the end of their potential for surviving on their own that might start coming to us and that would be a real problem certainly for us and the other organisations because they require much larger amounts of money to turn them round.

  Dr Freeman: The Historic Chapels Trust by its very nature acquires a lot of problem, large churches and buildings in difficult inner-city situations or remote rural situations because if a building can find an alternative future there is absolutely no requirement for our Trust to acquire it. We take on the difficult buildings and start our regeneration programme there and then. We also roll-up the functions of the Advisory Board and the Churches Conservation Trust into one body, but we are an independent charity. We are not owned by the other non Anglican denominations. We act independently and we have discretion.

  Mr Baker: One of the difficult things about predicting redundancy (and this is slightly beyond the remit of my board, but we observe it) is that it depends so much on local circumstances, local people. You can have a very good priest who is very much in tune with his congregation and that will keep a building going longer than might happen if you had a priest and his congregation who were on different ends, as it were, of the theological spectrum. You could have strong leaders, you could have difficulties in congregations, and, moreover, those circumstances change. Certainly in my years on a diocesan advisory committee I have seen parishes which looked doomed—people moved away, others came in, a change of priest and then things moved up. There is a lot of change bumping along the bottom there.

  Mr Field: Chairman, I think there are two issues. If you look at the Conservation Trust, we have this huge collection of outstanding buildings and a miniscule budget, which is actually being cut in real terms, and, as Crispin said, we do not know what the future trend of redundancies will be. What we have been trying to do is not only change our role as a trust, which originally was a William Morris type conception where you received a building and you set it in aspic—you did not change anything, you preserved it as it was. We felt that there is no future for us as a trust which only did that, although some wonderful buildings are so isolated that is the only thing you could suggest to do with it. We are trying to think of alternative ways that buildings might be used, and we are not being very modern about this. It is really a medieval conception that a community would actually use the nave of a building, so we are trying to get back to what these buildings were in their local communities, but we are also trying to extend our activities and, therefore, our legal basis so that we do not wait for buildings to come to us. Are there services that we can jointly provide with what is called the non-redundant part of the ecclesiastical scene so that buildings do not end up redundant? There is the idea of an ambulance service where buildings which are vulnerable can get basic repairs done, because you cannot expect a congregation with an average age of 70 to get up ladders and make sure that gutters are cleared. Is it possible for some kind of service to be provided to local communities where they might seek quite small grants which prevent that congregation imploding in on itself? There is an outwork to be done as well as having to face the real issue, which came up in your questioning in the earlier session, and that is that here is this country with this incredible collection of buildings, if you want to call them "heritage", and yet all of us somehow think this can be maintained with a miniscule budget, and it cannot be.

  Q41  Chairman: Is it your ambition to essentially get churches off your books, as it were? You have got a constant trickle of new buildings coming to you. Are you trying to get them into a position where they can be self-sustaining and you no longer have to take responsibility so that you can direct your attention to new ones?

  Mr Field: We are trying to do two things. We have classified our buildings—Crispin can tell you more of that—and there are clearly some that, on reflection, ought not to have come to us and therefore we are rather keen about whether we can actually find other uses for them which will be different from the sort of uses that we try to find for our churches, and there are others, probably at the top end of the market, which maybe parishes will want to claim back again. There ought to be a movement here rather than just a growing stock of buildings, but there are difficulties involved in that.

  Mr Truman: I think that is right. Actually that widens out back to your question about looking at what might come to us as we explore, with other organisations and, indeed, the Church Commissioners, the potential churches at risk and look at the problem churches. The problem is not only about lack of money to do repairs; it is about lack of community capacity. Often the will is there to save the church building but there is a lack of skills to project-manage, to fund raise, to look at imaginative alternative uses. That is the situation now, and I think that has been the situation historically, and so churches, as Frank says, have come to us that perhaps, if we had been able as a sector to inject more support, help with repairs, advice, perhaps hands-on help with fund-raising and practical interventions at the point in time where things were going wrong, they could have been kept out of the Trust anyway—they need never have come to us. I think we are all agreed there is a real need for capacity building by the sector and you need resources to do that. As Frank says, we have looked at our estate. It is a mixed bag of buildings. We think there is a lot of potential. What is special about churches is that they are essentially beautiful public buildings, iconic buildings, at the heart of communities that people love. In many cases we have got local people who are very keen to do more with a building but are at their wits end because it is cold, there is no toilet and the seats are hard. There is a need for some money, there is a need for capacity building, there is a need for fund-raising and there is a need for imaginative partnerships, perhaps with regeneration agencies, beyond the normal usual suspects of a church to think about what uses could go in there and how we can help perhaps a sub-region address issues of community development or regeneration. Having said that, what Frank has also alluded to is that there is a core of church buildings, some of which are in our care and some of which may well end up with us, where you will not be able to do that ever. They are Grade I listed, they are stunning, they are national monuments, but they are in the middle of a field. You might improve tourism, you might get more people to visit them but, in the end, they need central support, they need help from a body like us or another body, and you will not ever be able to sustain them on their own. It is about horses for courses, but there is certainly huge potential to do more.

  Mr Field: We are trying to develop local management agreements where local groups increasingly take over the running of the church, which we then hope might also be a model for future vestings that one would think locally about whether a community would take over its church in a different legal form rather than it automatically come to us.

  Dr Freeman: The Historic Chapels Trust has been very active ever since it was inaugurated in introducing community activities into its buildings even before the Lottery was formed. We always felt that it was somehow a depleting experience to offer somebody a guide book, tell them to walk round a church and then come out again after 20 minutes, and that we must offer something more. Right from the outset we have always put in new heating, lighting, kitchens, modern loos and facilities so that these buildings can be used by the local community, and, in order to do that, we have set up local committees following public meetings, which normally consist of people who have never had anything to do with the church or the denomination or that chapel before, just people who are concerned, and we have managed to graft on lots of new activities even into the most unpromising buildings. We have never really found a chapel that we could not regenerate. There are always half a dozen people out there who desperately care and will be on the local committee and will ensure there are open-days, that weddings still continue, that we have a concert, et cetera, et cetera, throughout the year, without promoting heavy over-use. We also have a lot of tenancy agreements, such as the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery at our chapel in Kensal Green Cemetery who use that particular chapel on a weekly basis and also hire it out. This was a building that was derelict until 1997—it was a very early Lottery scheme—and it is in a cemetery, not the most promising venue for lively activities, but it has gone like a bomb. It has been wonderful. I feel that our message is one of optimism and hope, but I do have some concerns about the future, which I will come to in a minute.

  Mr Baker: Could I strike a slight cautionary note on what is being said in the Churches Conservation Trust, which is admirable stuff, but the reality is that outstanding churches of outstanding merit will continue to become redundant and will continue to move to the Churches Conservation Trust. The scope of many of the churches that they have for accepting alternative uses without damaging that interest is limited and there are going to be a lot of difficult cases. It is all going to take a lot of time. In the meantime, in the natural course of events, the portfolio of the Churches Conservation Trust is going to steadily increase—that is natural—but what they are faced with is a declining budget in real terms, and so what has been said about the need for more resources for the Churches Conservation Trust from the detached overview position of the Advisory Board, we support that need for resources very strongly indeed.

  Mr Field: Can I make a comparison between Jenny's portfolio and ours. If we take the Unitarian Chapel in Wallasey, which Jenny's Trust has taken over, huge numbers of activities are now going on there but it is a building with a number of rooms and—and this is in no way detracting from what the Trust has done—it is easier to put kitchens and lavatories in than if you have got a great medieval building. It is somewhat more difficult, which is what David was saying, to adapt those buildings. It is not necessarily impossible, but it is more difficult to do.

  Dr Freeman: I would entirely agree with your point, Frank, but also I would emphasise that HCT has created new-build, as at Walpole Old Chapel in Suffolk where there was no scope for a loo and a kitchen within the envelope of the historic chapel—it would have been a travesty to do that—so we built a little block outside which fulfils that purpose. We have also done that kind of thing at the Dissenters' Chapel, where we built new facilities behind one of the colonnades, which cannot be seen but which has enabled that cemetery chapel to be regenerated.

  Q42  Helen Southworth: One of the things that I wanted to ask was similar to the question I asked before about bringing new people into an understanding and an enjoyment of the historic environment, people from socially disadvantaged groups or people who were not normally accessing heritage. I was wondering whether you thought there was a role within that for churches and listed buildings.

  Mr Baker: If I could put my DAC hat on temporarily (and I am not here in that capacity), I think one of the ways in which the wider community can get linked into their churches, whether they use them or not, is by the creation of "friends" organisations. This tends to happen rather better in prosperous rural areas than in urban situations, but if you have got the whole community in some form or other behind the church, not just the parochial church council, this can be a focus for social activities, for engagement, for understanding about the building and, crucially, for fund-raising for maintenance.

  Mr Truman: I think that is right. You can hit a number of targets all at once with this. The Trust now has an education programme which I think probably, to be fair, came from trustees and from the DCMS wanting to see school projects going into churches and learning about our heritage. What we are seeing also as a result is that school children, having learnt about a trust church in their midst—Vange in Essex, for example, a church that was heavily vandalised—then take ownership of it and start to care for it and be concerned for it. In Vange the local school children have designed replacement stained-glass windows that were smashed by perhaps their elder brothers in former years. They are now actually keeping watch on the church and there is a regular series of community events, secular and worship events, going on there and the church has come back to life as the result of an education visit aimed at broadening the types of people involved. I think, yes, that is the case. Our favourite example is St Paul's in Bristol, our circus church, which is a stunning Georgian church in a Grade I listed square. I do not know if any of you know St Paul's in Bristol where the 1980's riots were, but it was an area which saw terrible decline and disadvantage. With the help of £2.5 million from HLF we have restored that church and there is now a circus school in there as tenant, and they are bringing a completely new cross-section of society into that building from across Bristol and it is working wonders and it means that our church is being looked at after.

  Dr Freeman: Could I just speak for the virtues of disabled access which we have introduced to professional standards. Nearly all our chapels have it, and we do find that disabled access is used. We have one or two people at Todmorden Unitarian Church, active members of our local group there, who are quite seriously disabled and it has provided access for them and they take part fully in the facilities and events that the chapel offers.

  Mr Field: On that, we are pleased that the Department sets us targets for visitors, and we have a million visitors a year plus and we actually fulfil that. There is a danger, though, that the Department is so breaking down its target and asking us to count who is going in and who is coming out, that if you have got slender resources you are diverting resources to that exercise rather than perhaps doing your mainstream, and I do question whether the people coming in quite see themselves in the categories that the Department thinks they should fit into. I was at a project in the East End the other week, and it was a Bangladeshi group, and I wanted politically to talk to them about identity. I said to them, "Look, I have two identities. I am English and I am an Anglican. What is your identity?" They all surprised me. They said that they were British and, secondly, Bangladeshi. If they were coming through our churches, presumably we would do this as an ethnic minority. It was quite interesting that none of that group thought of themselves primarily in those terms, but the Department has a structure that we should be meeting those sorts of sub-totals of our total, and I am not so sure how valuable that is.

  Q43  Helen Southworth: I hear what you say about that, but, leaving aside the specifics of the categorisation, do you think, in your experience, non traditional access to heritage happens by itself or do you need to work at it?

  Mr Field: Both, I think.

  Q44  Helen Southworth: To give you an example, did the community ask for them?

  Dr Freeman: I would say that the publicity at HCT plays a very big role. We generate an enormous amount of publicity, press releases, booklets, guidebooks and all the rest from Head Office but also locally as well, where local committees will advertise events very widely in a local area and pull in audiences. We think our audiences come from up to 20 miles—that is the limit—but most will come from closer.

  Mr Baker: As far as the Advisory Board is concerned, this is not strictly part of our remit, but, in addition to advising on the heritage merits of potentially redundant churches, we also advise on the extent to which they are capable of accepting change, and we do this in a fair up-front way, providing papers that indicate that a certain amount of change is possible and make sure this gets to the locals and gets into the local system, and so when a church that is going for alternative use is offered on the market there is the sort of paper work there that gives an indication of what the opportunities might be. The sorts of thing you are talking about could be one of those, but obviously the users have got to come to the opportunity.

  Mr Field: On that, Helen, I think that there is a huge group out there who are deeply sympathetic to church buildings, and we see that with the numbers of people who visit. Whilst in no way do we want to detract from your inquiry about what the sum of public support should be, I think there is an onus on us to try and see how we might tap better the huge resource of goodwill out there from people who do actually love visiting churches and feel that churches are part, not just of their own local communities but a crucial part of understanding what England is about.

  Q45  Mr Evans: Can I press you on that one, Frank, because I go to a church in Ribchester, which you may know as an old Roman town, and it seems that we are forever raising funds to keep that church in good nick. We have just done an appeal on arts and heritage where the congregation all subscribe money over a four-year period for that church in Stibb, which is another church which is not too far away and which is a very historic church. Yet, we are limited in numbers and because of the sort of money that we are talking about to keep these churches in good nick it is very difficult and, if we were not doing it over four years, I am not too sure how we would do it, and we do a number of fund-raising activities as well as getting money from the congregation. Do people really appreciate the scale of the problem? We are looking here at £1.2 billion worth of repairs that are now outstanding on churches. I do not know if my church is in that figure, but how can you access cash outside of congregations to make sure that these fantastic churches and buildings that are there are going to exist in 100 years time?

  Mr Field: There is a case for greater public support (ie greater taxpayer support), but I believe that we should try and do that in a way which enhances local support rather than people feel that somebody else is taking over the responsibility. A form of matching funding would actually achieve that. I think there have been too many areas of British life where people sign off and think, "Oh, that is the taxpayer's responsibility. We do not have to do anything more." The size of the bill is so huge, as you say, that volunteers by themselves are not actually going to be able to achieve that, though they achieve miracles. What we want is a form of increased taxpayer support which encourages people to try even harder to raise funds.

  Mr Baker: This can be done quite usefully with a mix of national and local government support. When I worked for a county council as their conservation and archaeology officer and we had a grants budget, before it was cut altogether, for historic buildings, we quite deliberately offered grants to those historic churches that did not fall within the grants that English Heritage were then giving. So we were trying to do that sort of partnership as well, of course, as encouraging the locals at the same time, but I think very few local authorities now have historic buildings grants budgets left.

  Mr Truman: If you look at the Church of England report Building Faith in our Future, which is their strategy for church buildings, one of the things they call for is an equal place at the table with other sources of government funding at regional and national level—ODPM monies and RDA money and regeneration monies. I think there is a perception that churches are seen as faith groups which are outside the mainstream of funding. We have a church in Cambridgeshire which is right next to one of the ODPM Growth Area developments, literally in the next field. We tried to get some money from the Community Facilities Funding that goes alongside Growth Areas to use that medieval building—it was an empty medieval building—as part of the plan for community facilities, and it was just missing off the radar of all of bodies—the local authority in the region and the Cambridgeshire Horizons implementation body that had been set up. They were just perplexed at the idea that this building could have something to contribute. I think overcoming some of those barriers would be of greater help on this issue.

  Mr Field: May I add one point to what Crispin said about the launching of that Church of England report which was done in Lambeth Palace. Gathered together were civic society—the people and organisations who have through the decades and centuries supported these great buildings—and the Government minister who was kindly responding to the launch of this building, at the end, invited the assembled company to join civil society. She had not realised that civil society was there and was operating without her coming or going or anything else. I think it is immensely important when you are doing your report that you seek ways in which you strengthen civil society rather than civil society thinking it is another reason for the state either elbowing us out or the state does not see us having any role at all in maintaining our historical heritage.

  Q46  Chairman: You are optimistic that there is still a willingness on the part of the community at large to join together to try and save historic buildings? I went to the launch of an appeal for my local church and there were half a dozen people and they were the same people I see at every voluntary organisational event, no matter what it is—WRVS, Red Cross—and predominantly elderly people, and not particularly affluent either. You are optimistic that somehow there is this untapped resource there.

  Mr Field: No, I wish to salute the efforts which are made. In Nigel's example it was interesting what he did not say. He was saying how huge it was, how continuous this activity was, but they do it. What we are looking for is some form of partnership with tax-payers through the state which encourages that rather than makes people feel that their role is now irrelevant to the raising of funds. I think we are at the stage where the bills are mounting, and, unless there is a response centrally, people will just feel that they are drowning in this situation. It is getting that combination right which I think is crucial.

  Dr Freeman: I think I can add to that by saying that any relief on charitable giving to church buildings and charities in general will, of course, be very welcome. Historic Chapels Trust funding works slightly differently. We have found historically over 13 years that we have obtained roughly a third of our funding from English Heritage, roughly a third from the Heritage Lottery Fund since it started and we have raised about a third ourselves; we have raised funds all over the place from a variety of donors, nobody giving us money of any great magnitude and most people giving money on a one-off basis. We do have a subscribers system, but these are people who have come in for £10 a year and sometimes give us more. Somehow or other we have scrambled all this money together to over £4.5 million which has all been directed to our chapels, but I think that at HCT we do have concerns about the future funding of English Heritage and the future funding available from HLF. If that declines, we will be worrying and in trouble. I think a lot of private people give us money because we are getting grants from EH and HLF and have their backing—that is important—a sort of imprimatur that what we are doing is the right thing.

  Q47  Alan Keen: Recently particularly we have all looked at the rivalry between Islam and Christianity, but I can tell you, it is nothing compared to when I was a boy and the rivalry between even different branches of the Methodist Chapel and the other denominations. We used to throw bricks at them, and this was part of life. Thank goodness that has all finished. Not the last people who approached me in my constituency but the one before that was an American Evangelist church, who has partly rebuilt a series of factory units to make a church, but the people who approach me more often than any other type are Muslims, and there seem to be as many branches of Islam, or certainly groups of Muslims, as there were when I was a boy and was astonished by the rivalry between local churches. Is there a bar in the Church of England against churches being used by other religions? It is the same God when we are looking at Islam, for instance. Is there a bar?

  Mr Field: Whilst our churches have been made redundant they are still consecrated buildings. There is no bar on community groups using them for community activities, but there are still occasional services which are carried out in our churches, and we actually encourage that, but we have never had an application from a Muslim group specifically to use one of our buildings for religious purpose, though—it comes back to this accounting business—we would not know whether Muslim groups as community groups, as part of community groups, would naturally participate.

  Mr Truman: All Souls Bolton is a huge Victorian church in our care in the middle of an area which is now 95% Asian, and the Asian community are at the forefront of saving that building, but they want it as a community centre for the whole community. They have said to us that they do not want it for worship and they do not want to be exclusive about it, but they are fascinated by it because it is in the centre of their community but also because it is a religious building, albeit it is a different religion, and we see a great future for that building being run by the local Asian community. We have a building in Toxteth which is going to be a multi-faith centre. That will stop short of non-Christian worship because of the sensibilities of the Church of England, but it will in every other respect celebrate different faiths and, being on the front line of the Toxteth riots, it is very appropriate.

  Mr Baker: I think I can give a slightly wider picture to that. Only about 10% of redundancies end up in the Trust whereas nearly 75% end up in alternative uses of some sort or other. Amongst those alternative uses are, indeed, religious uses. Yes, as Frank says, there are sensibilities about how an ex-Anglican building is going to be used, but you do get quite strong community-based uses of churches. There is quite a lot that goes on in the 75% that end up in alternative uses.

  Mr Field: In the Bolton example, it was the Muslims who were beating off the white yobbos who were trying to burn down the building in the sense that they felt that this was a great building for the community. As you would expect, there are war memorials in the church, and as I was going round I was discussing with the Asian leadership that one of the things we would obviously want to do is to move those into the sanctuary, which would remain a religious area of the community building; but many of the people who had come to live round that area themselves had fought in those two wars or had relatives who had, and one of the suggestions was that they might like to give the equivalent memorial stones for people who now live around that area whose own family members died in the first and second World Wars so that there would in fact be two plaques, one remembering those who died in the wars who actually lived in that area and a second plaque of people who now live in the area who have families who died in the same war on the same side over the last century. So there is another side to this Muslim debate which is not always picked up in the media.

  Q48  Alan Keen: Coming back to theology rather than buildings, there has been movement but there appears to be no movement on the bar against other religions using Church of England buildings for worship. Is that the case? There are so many Muslim groups in my constituency who would love to have anywhere. They are not looking for churches, they are looking for any building of any sort where they can worship. Is there a chance of that bar ever coming off? We are not now talking about buildings, and maybe we should not get much into this, but we are trying to preserve buildings and there are people who would love to use them.

  Mr Field: We have not had any applications. In the Bolton example people have already got places to worship in but actually want some significant community resources, and it is the Asian community who are the spearhead in putting forward proposals for that that we are trying to join up with.

  Q49  Helen Southworth: Could I ask very briefly about the craft skills involved in the work? Some of the examples of the churches show an incredibly high level of original craftsmanship. What is your experience of getting access to the right kinds of craftsmen? Is this something that the Government needs to support?

  Dr Freeman: Yes. I feel very strongly on this point. I am qualified in building conservation myself and I often take a direct role in employing craftsmen at our chapels. There are not enough of them and it all adds to the time frame during which a project can be carried out, because the craftsman cannot come when you would most like him on the spot. When one is repairing buildings of Grade I or II quality, one has to have a well qualified person doing the work, and so I was pleased to see that the HLF is now offering £7 million worth of bursaries, but still it is not easy to make your way as a craftsman, particularly when you are young. I think rates of pay are not necessarily very high until you get well-known.

  Mr Field: We put in our contract asking people whether they offered New Deal and also Modern Apprentices. You obviously cannot do that with tiny contracts but with the larger ones. On the Bristol one that Crispin mentioned the builders and the conservation company offered two modern apprenticeships, and one of the guys turned out to be a star, and not the one you might have thought originally would have been, and is now an incredibly valuable member of their staff.

  Q50  Chairman: Can I return to the central question of funding. Frank, you said that we need to look beyond central government and encourage perhaps match funding. Nevertheless, your grant, as you pointed out, has essentially been frozen for the last few years, HCT gets money from English Heritage, whose grant has also been declining in real terms, and HLF which is under pressure. How serious is the funding position facing your two organisations?

  Mr Field: Supposing the responsibilities of the Trust grew in the next 30 years as it has in the past 30 years and our budget remained stable in money terms, therefore a cut in real terms, we would go under. Crispin has some examples of churches where we already, with our cuts in budget, cannot do the conservation work that we would like to be able to do. Therefore they are falling into greater disrepair than we would want them to be. Whilst we can happily say we can swim along in the next few years, unless there is a major change in how the Department views heritage within its budget and what it allocates and therefore how we can continue to encourage volunteers to give, in the way that Jenny describes, I think the longer term future for the greatest collection of historic buildings in this country is grim.

  Dr Freeman: I would concur with those remarks. I would also point out that at HCT we do tackle chapels in the grossest of gross disrepair—some of them are nearly derelict—because there has not been the kind of quinquennial inspection system for those buildings which has applied to Anglican churches for years and years. We face enormous repair bills at some of our chapels and I think that if the EH and HLF budget's are going to be cut back that is going to detract enormously from the scope of work that HCT can complete within a reasonable period of time. It is the unreasonable period of time that creates yet more disrepair and the need for yet more money.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming along this morning.





 
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