Members of the Committee had a great couple of days in London last week for the National Churches Trust conference. Held at St Paul’s Cathedral and then in Westminster, the event was punctuated with a magnificent evensong at the Cathedral followed by a reception. We were all honoured that HRH The Duke of Gloucester helped celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Incorporated Church Building Society (ICBS) whose work is continued by the National Churches Trust.
That everyone attending a church service can sit down – and isn’t forced to stand – is witness to the early work done by the ICBS. Apart from campaigning for more churches to be built, particularly in cities, accommodating the increasing urban population as a result of the Industrial Revolution, a fundamental aspect of all grant aid given by the Society was that they should have at least part ‘of their interiors allocated wholly to those who could not afford pew rents and did not possess the local influence to be given proprietorial rights over pews.’ In other words, there were free pews for those who needed them.
Awards were given out to people and churches whose foresight and imagination should be recognised. We were pleased that Janet Chapman was nominated for one of the Marsh Church and Volunteer Community Awards in its first year and Olly’s Friendship Room at St. Michael and All Angels Church, Upper Sapey was runner up for the Marsh Innovative Church Project Award. Speeches were given by Huw Edwards, Bill Bryson and Neil MacGregor, formerly chairman of the National Gallery. They all said that churches mean different things to different people but that they are vital for communities. They are inheritors of the legacy which churches represent, not just as places of worship, but of our history, architecture, as places of quietness and spirituality, as a focus for community life, and it is vital that they be maintained and used. Once they’ve gone, they’ve gone as Huw Edwards said.
The conference proper was full and kicked off by Dame Caroline Spelman MP, liaison in the Commons for the Church Commissioners. She spoke about the imagination and dedication of her own village to the preservation of the parish church. Her introduction was followed by an array of accomplished speakers. Perhaps the most compelling was John Goodall, the Architectural Editor of Country Life. Despite having grown up overseas, it is clear that his love of church buildings has had a great impact on his learning. An inspiring grassroots talk came from James Miller of Northamptonshire, whose great efforts have led to the launch of the Northamptonshire Britain’s Best Surprise website. It is a magnificent resource which has opening times for churches (inspired!) and includes maps where potential visitors can see nearby attractions or facilities – a pub, a walk or a shop for instance.
Pertinent to our own churches in Herefordshire was the launch of the Maintenance Booker – www.maintenancebooker.org.uk. This is growing to become a resource which all churches can use to help find respected and trusted workmen to do often simple jobs to their church, such as unblocking drains or doing some remedial roof repair. The website is still in its infancy but HHCT encourages all churches to sign up and use it. A stitch in time…
We owe the NCT much for their ongoing efforts to make churches last another 1,000 years. The conference, as in earlier years, provided debate and encouragement for local volunteers and we are particularly delighted to see their grant-giving programmes ongoing and simplified. We shall continue to offer the NCT our support, as it has oft supported us, and we would love to hear from churches about their experiences with the Maintenance Booker and the grant application process.