Parliamentary debate on The Churches Conservation Trust

12 Feb 2015

A General Committee debate of the Twelfth Delegated Legislation Committee at the House of Commons yesterday unanimously approved the Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2015, so that the Government can continue to provide some funding to support the work of The Churches Conservation Trust.

A good-humoured debate featured supportive speeches from the Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant MP and the former Secretary of State for Culture Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, before the Order was approved unopposed by the Committee.

Leading the debate, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey MP said:

“To give a little background on the work of the Churches Conservation Trust, it takes into its care some of our finest churches that are no longer required for regular worship. It was established in 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund. It now cares for 347 churches, large and small, from isolated gems to urban Victorian buildings, in rural and urban areas throughout England. It is a charity, established in ecclesiastical legislation, and has always been a successful partnership between the Church and Government aimed at protecting an important part of this country’s heritage.”

Later in the debate, he added:

“When a church comes into the care of the trust, the average cost is about £300,000 to bring it into a condition in which it can be opened to the public again and equipped for community use. The key point—the clue is in the name, the Churches Conservation Trust—is that the primary aim of the trust is the conservation of churches as buildings of architectural importance. That is relevant, because some of the buildings might have been out of use for a number of years and might therefore require repair and refurbishment. The trust has an excellent reputation for the quality of its conservation work. It is also important to note that after 45 or so years the trust now has an estate of 347 buildings that serve local communities. There is of course a rolling programme of repair needs, as well as the upgrading of facilities and the provision of new ones.

“To give some examples, last year the trust opened a new flagship urban project which involved the rescue and adaptation of All Souls church, Bolton, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the £4 million project has conserved that grade II* listed church in a disadvantaged area of the north-west where the majority of the residents happen not to be Christian. The trust has put the church back into the hands of the community…

“In All Souls, Bolton, which I am sure, Sir Roger, you will want to visit at some point, high-tech internal “pods” provide space and amenities for the whole local community, small businesses and arts. I can attest from my own witness that the fabric has been beautifully restored. The building will be run by a newly constituted community group and will be self-sustaining in the long term.”

Adding his own thoughts on our All Souls Bolton project, Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant MP said:

“The Minister quite rightly referred to the wonderful restoration of All Souls, Bolton. I have not been there myself, but I am told by those who have that it is stunning, and we have heard first-hand evidence from the Minister today. That restoration cost £4.9 million, including some lottery funding. However, the total amount of money that the Government are allowing for the trust next year, as set out in the order, is £3.217 million. It seems to me that that will not go very far between 343 churches (sic) , along with the other five, or potentially 24, churches being added to the list in the next year.”

Former Secretary of State for Culture, Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, added:

“I have had the privilege of meeting staff from [The Churches Conservation Trust] on a number of occasions and I have always been impressed by their sheer dedication to their work…One matter that has not yet been picked up on is the important role of the army of volunteers involved in the Churches Conservation Trust. I pay particular tribute to them, because without their support and dedication, organisations such as the trust would not be as successful as they are. We all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Read the transcript

Watch the debate below