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Faith in Maintenance launches!

Sara and Kate at St Dunstan's Stepney


10 February 2007

A unique scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to provide free training for people from all faith communities to care for their listed place of worship launches officially in May with a course in the diocese of Southwark. This is the first of a planned schedule of 32 annual courses nationwide specifically designed to help and encourage the volunteers who care for historic places of worship.

The Faith in Maintenance (FiM) project has been developed by the SPAB with generous support from the HLF, English Heritage and other partners to bring practical, helpful information to those at the sharp edge of maintenance.

The first course is scheduled for May 19 at the church of St Michael and All Angels with St James, Croydon. Future courses have already been booked for Betws-y-Coed (North Wales), Lincoln, Ipswich and Bexhill. By July 2007, just two months after launching, more than 300 people will already have found out more about the best ways to care for the listed buildings where they worship. It is intended that the scheme will reach 6,000 people over the next five years. SPAB welcomes enquiries from faith groups interested in running a course for their volunteers.

Places of worship are integral to the landscape of Britain, representing centuries of belief, craftsmanship and design. Yet many of our most precious faith-related buildings are in desperate need of repair and rely on the help of local volunteers. SPAB's FiM project aims to bring direct assistance to the army of volunteers who look after a variety of these buildings in both England and Wales. Along with protecting significant historic structures, the project will also encourage more people to become actively involved in their local community's heritage while broadening and strengthening their own skills base.

FiM is led by architect and former SPAB Scholar Sara Crofts. She says: "Our detailed research has shown that volunteers genuinely want to learn about the buildings they care for so that they can do the right things to protect and maintain them. SPAB's FiM courses are designed to give them the confidence and knowledge to make the right decisions for their buildings, while equipping them with the practical skills needed to achieve simple, effective solutions to some of the regular maintenance problems they might encounter. The response from all sectors has been overwhelming, demonstrating a real need for this kind of information and advice."

One of the key aspects of the scheme is that free training will be available to any faith group using a historic building for its worship. Around 45% of Grade I listed buildings in England are maintained by The Church of England, but other groups have important places of worship too. Many of them were specifically designed to meet the needs of a particular type of worship - synagogues and United Reformed Churches, for example, are often historically and architecturally significant.

Other faiths, some relatively new to this country, make use of redundant churches and chapels, or other historic buildings adapted for worship: for example, the C18 chapel used by the Jain community in Leicester. former Huguenot chapel in London's Spitalfields and the C19

Attending a Faith in Maintenance Training course will provide volunteers with:

  • An appreciation of the importance of historic places of worship
  • An understanding of traditional building materials and construction
  • The ability to recognize potential problems
  • Information on how to tackle common maintenance tasks
  • Access to specialist professional advice
  • Opportunities to share experiences with other volunteers

Volunteers will also find out more about maintenance and decay, Health and Safety, legislative issues, managing relationships with professional advisors and builders, planning ahead and monitoring. Importantly the courses will provide opportunities for networking (useful for isolated wardens) and enable participants to adapt English Heritage maintenance plans for their own buildings with expert advice to hand.

In addition to the 30 courses run each year, SPAB will also provide two special courses for young people, one of these taking place at the Society's annual summer working party at a church in need. This year the working party will return to St Mary's Church, Ratcliffe on Soar, Nottinghamshire.

While researching and preparing this project (an initial study made possible through an HLF grant of £15,800) SPAB contacted a wide-cross section of faith groups to assess the level of need. Groups questioned ranged from the Church of England, Methodist Church, Baptist Union and Roman Catholic Church to the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, The Federation of Jain Organisations in the UK and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

SPAB's detailed questionnaire had an outstanding 85% response rate with more than 75% of respondents identifying a genuine need for guidance and assistance. Most significantly, 78% of volunteers contacted directly expressed support and enthusiasm.

Stephen Johnson, Heritage Lottery Fund Director of Operations, said: "Volunteers are absolutely vital to the work of the heritage sector and especially to places of worship. So the Heritage Lottery Fund is particularly pleased to have been able to support this training project which will enable thousands of volunteers to gain real expertise as well as inspiring more people to become actively involved in their local heritage."

Philip Venning, SPAB Secretary, says: "We are delighted by the positive response we have received. Our research showed quite clearly that there was a very real need for a course of this sort and this has been borne out by the interest FiM is generating. Few churchwardens, for example, have relevant training, yet they are responsible for nearly half of England's grade I buildings. They already do an excellent job, but this training will enhance their work. Historic buildings are vitally important to the heart of communities where it is often the people themselves who play a crucial role in preserving the past."

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