Lancaster church leads the way for next generation of heritage craftspeople

The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) are thrilled to announce that Historic England have awarded the Church of St John the Evangelist, Lancaster, a Heritage at Risk grant of £496k. This funding will be used towards a programme of urgent repair works and delivery of a Summer School heritage building skills training programme for around 20 traditional skills apprentices from across the north of England in 2024. This project has also been made possible through 25% match funding provided by a generous anonymous donation, a thoughtful legacy gift in left in the will of a generous individual and CCT reserves.

The Grade II* Georgian Church of St John’s is in the heart of Lancaster’s High Street Heritage Action Zone and Lancaster Conservation Area. Vested in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust (the national charity saving historic churches at risk) in 1983, the church was once used for concerts, community events and home to a fair-trade café. However, this came to an end in 2015 following severe flooding during Storm Desmond, which led to deterioration in the condition of the building including dry and wet rot outbreaks.

Over the last eight years, CCT has invested around a quarter of a million pounds in remedial and emergency works at the church, which has allowed for the church to be occasionally used once again as a community space, including this January as part of the Light Up Lancaster Art Installation. However, there has been an increasingly clear need for urgent repairs to the roof, tower, parapets and gutters to prevent further damage and potential loss of the beautifully crafted interior.

Critically, this grant will also offer a once in a lifetime opportunity for around twenty young apprentices at Historic England’s Heritage Building Skills Summer School in 2024. Over five weeks, trainees will assist with repairs to the roof and tower, learning and developing traditional skills from master craftspeople, helping to tackle the critical shortage in essential skills needed to rescue historic buildings across the country.

Over the last ten years research within the heritage sector has revealed a growing shortage of specialist skills in the building repair and conservation sector. The 2023 Red List produced by the Heritage Crafts organisation includes flint knapping, gauged brickwork, stained glass making and slating as ‘endangered’ crafts in the UK. St John’s will play a vital role in developing the next generation of traditionally trained craftspeople in masonry, roofing and lead, iron and timber work.

The funding, meanwhile, will allow use of the Church to continue while CCT, which is also benefitting from generous support from the National Lottery and others, develops plans for a long-term viable use that would allow the Church to be once again at the heart of the community for years to come.

Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s North West Regional Director, said:

“St John’s is a focal point for Lancaster’s High Street Heritage Action Zone and our grant will help to secure vital repairs needed to protect it for the immediate future.  The project will also provide a brilliant opportunity for our heritage building skills apprentices and trainees to develop their expertise, which is needed for so many well-loved buildings across the country.  The plans to use the building for a wide range of business and community purposes demonstrates how historic places can be reinvented with care and imagination.”

Elanor Johnson, Regeneration Officer at Churches Conservation Trust commented:

“Not only is the support provided by Historic England to help us tackle the most urgent repair work at St John’s vital in securing the future of this wonderful building, it will also make a real difference to the future of the trainees and apprentices involved, helping them to develop skills to build their own careers and in turn helping CCT to care for historic churches for generations to come.”



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