Open Churches Policy Launched
The Churches Conservation Trust today launched our Open Churches Policy, in a new push aiming to ensure the buildings in our care are open to the public during daylight hours 364 days a year.
We are delighted that our new policy has seized the public imagination, featuring on BBC Breakfast with interviews were at two stunning churches - All Souls, Halifax and the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Shrewsbury. Members of the public have shown their support for the campaign by signing up to volunteer at their local CCT church and the enquiries keep coming in.
We're helping local volunteers and staff to ensure our churches are open to the public, 364 days a year, by:
- Encouraging people who live near to a church to volunteer as a keyholder, unlocking churches in the morning and locking them back up every evening.
- Building networks of local volunteers to keep watch on our churches, allowing them to be left open at all times.
- Fitting some churches with an automatic, timed lock fitted (dependent on raising funds and ensuring the conservation requirements of fitting an electronic lock to an historic door are met)
Staff and volunteers on the ground will decide which of these options work best for them.
Why open churches?
There are some very strong practical reasons for keeping our churches open in daylight hours. These include:
Increase visitors: Many visitors to a church are put off if they find a locked door and have to go to find the key. Where an open church policy has been implemented, visitor numbers have always risen immediately as illustrated in the most recently published visitor figures by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).
Security: An open church looks more cared-for and attracts more visitors and interest, which generates increased ‘eyes and ears’ natural surveillance that deters theft and vandalism. Our research shows that incidents of theft and vandalism have not increased despite steady increases in the number of churches kept open.
Income: CCT is increasingly reliant upon income from visitor donations. Without high levels of visitor donations in the future we will be unable to repair all of our churches. There is a strong correlation between a church being open and publicised, the numbers of visitors and the amount left in the donations box.
Public benefit: Public access and use is the main criterion by which The Trust qualifies for charitable registration under the ‘public benefit’ test administered by the Charity Commission.
How can you help?
To kickstart the initiative, the Trust needs communities and volunteer groups near to the churches which remain closed to come forward and show their support. The trust will then work with them to decide on whether to leave the church open at all times, nominate a volunteer key holder team to be responsible for opening and closing it every day, or fit an automatic, time lock. Local variations to these three options may be agreed in exceptional cases where there is a very high level of, justifiable, concern over security, for example in urban areas. With only 50 staff in total, volunteers are critical to the our ability to care for, open and promote England’s hidden treasures. Volunteers range from individuals who open up each day, to volunteer teams running a number of sites and autonomous Friends Groups managing events and community use.