News from the National Churches Trust

£12.4 billion ‘National Help Service’ run out of UK’s churches under immediate threat due to vanishing funding
The Sacred Heart in Tamworth, Staffordshire, is one of several churches featured in a new report which shines a light on their delivery of vital services.

The House of Good report from the National Churches Trust, the UK’s leading church buildings support charity, has branded the nation’s church buildings a ‘National Help Service’ after finding they provided £12.4 billion worth of essential social and economic support to local communities during the 12 months up until May 2020.

Church leaders have called for urgent government support to protect church buildings after a new report highlighted the UK’s increasing reliance on mainly-volunteer led services including food banks, mental health counselling and youth groups based in churches, chapels and meeting houses.

The report found that church buildings are a ready-made network of responsive hubs providing increasing levels of care and wellbeing to local communities throughout the UK.

This includes the Sacred Heart in Tamworth, Staffordshire, which featured as a case study in the new report and has over 200 volunteers delivering a variety of services.

Sacred Heart Church dates from the 1960s and serves the Glascote Heath neighbourhood, a mainly residential part of Tamworth with a few convenience stores and pubs. The church is building a new cafe area to help reach more people with the aim of creating a welcoming place for people to come and find the support services they need.

During COVID-19, Community Together partnered up with several organisations including Heart of Tamworth which is based at the Sacred Heart. In partnership with the Tamworth Self Isolation Support Group, the Heart of Tamworth delivered food parcels to the vulnerable in Tamworth including people who were shielding or isolating.

Father Michael White, Parish Priest at Sacred Heart, said: “We're really very much aware that everything we do is done almost entirely by volunteers, so we've got over 200 volunteers from our church running all the services.

“Some of them maybe just do the Winter Night Shelter or the Summer Scheme, but that's the life blood of our outreach work and its worth if you added the hours up, just purely add the hours up and multiply them by £10 an hour or £15 an hour, you're talking about tens of thousands of hours and probably £250,000 a year's worth of work. It's invaluable isn't it?”

Photo: Street Angels from Sacred Heart (photo courtesy of National Churches Trust)

The majority of churches featured in the report found a way to provide community support during the COVID-19 pandemic but the report warns that many of their buildings are under threat, especially in towns and cities where they deliver the most value, as support for essential maintenance and repair from government and other funding bodies dries up.

Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker, said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, church buildings were placed in the same category as gyms and cinemas and forced to lock down. But for the most vulnerable in our society, the support church buildings offer is not a recreational choice – it’s an essential need – and lockdown served to highlight the increasing reliance of people on this support. These buildings have become our National Help Service.
“But this is a National Help Service that we risk losing and may never be able to replace if these buildings do not get the financial support they need. Each year, we receive thousands of requests for help from churches desperately in need of repairing the roof, or installing kitchen facilities and toilets, but we are only able to fund a quarter of these. For this reason, we are urgently calling on local and national government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to recognise the continuing need for their support.”
Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, Joint Presidents of the National Churches Trust said: “During lockdown, churches around the country continued to use their buildings for the benefit of society as people suffered the fallout of the pandemic. The value that church buildings provide in offering a space where all are welcomed and loved might be priceless, but looking after them has a very large cost. This report makes the argument for why it is appropriate for church-based community services to be funded by national government.”  
The Most Rev George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff, and Vice-President of the National Churches Trust, said: “Food Banks, Night Shelters, Lunch Clubs, Food Delivery, Community Centres, Advice and Counselling Sessions and so much else take place on church premises and in church halls, in historic buildings which are beloved by local communities. But the challenges of maintaining church buildings and their work is greater than ever because of an increasing scarcity of resources.” 
Will Watt, Director of State of Life, social impact and value specialists, which carried out the study, said: “Evidencing the full social value of the church building and its congregation and volunteers was a pioneering and rewarding challenge. The findings reveal that churches are without doubt ‘key places’ in our community. Churches provide a ready-made and extremely cost-effective source of help, support and care. This care radiates out from the buildings into our communities. 
“The value we present in the report could easily be four or six times higher using other methods consistent with the Treasury Green Book.”