Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, in Suffolk, one of thousands of Grade I listed Church of England churches. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Government has launched a new pilot programme to repair and maintain historic places of worship across England.
The £1.8 million scheme was launched on Monday by tourism minister Michael Ellis and will be overseen by Historic England.
The pilot scheme will run for the next 18 months, with experts being made available to support listed churches, synagogues and meeting houses initially in Suffolk and Greater Manchester.
Launching the fund, Mr Ellis said: 'Historic faith buildings are a key part of our rich heritage and it is important they are protected.
'Every year thousands of volunteers dedicate a huge amount of time to their upkeep, but many need high levels of maintenance and repair.
'Through these pilots in Manchester and Suffolk, we will unlock the wider community potential of listed places of worship and provide practical guidance to help preserve these much-loved buildings.'
The Church of England alone manages over 12,000 listed church buildings, many of which are costly to maintain due to their age and architectural heritage.
The scheme will help listed churches and other eligible places of worship remain fit to serve their communities for generations to come. This will include managing a network of local volunteers in maintaining the listed buildings and exploring options for wider use of the buildings by the community. The historic places of worship will also receive much-needed funds towards repairs and maintenance.
Churches are best known for holding services each Sunday but many churches do much more than that, providing their communities with vital services, such as foodbanks, lunch clubs, parent toddler groups, debt advice, and winter night shelters for the homeless.
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, pointed out that church buildings receive no regular Government funding despite providing much-needed community facilities and social outreach.
'This fund will model a 'stitch-in-time' approach, addressing urgent repair needs before they become costlier,' he said.
Chairman of the Church Buildings Council, Sir Tony Baldry said the Church and Government must work together to look after listed church buildings and 'encourage a wider sense of ownership among the community.'
The launch of the fund follows an independent review into the sustainability of English churches and cathedrals last year which concluded that church buildings play a 'vital role' in providing public services and should be used for more than just worship services.
Bernard Taylor, who chaired the review, said it was not enough to rely on the goodwill of local volunteers for the preservation of older places of worship.
'We need a long-term vision for how these buildings will continue to be cared for and protected for future generations,' he said.
This article was originally published in Christian Today and is re-published here with permission.