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Changes to GPOW; update from the Church Buildings Council

On 4 April 2017 the Heritage Lottery Fund announced its intention to close the Grants for Places of Worship scheme that it has run since 2012. The Church Buildings Council continues to oppose this, as outlined in its briefing statement of 6 April. This page provides a further update as a result of high-level meetings held between members and officers of the Church Buildings Council with senior HLF staff and trustees.

Updates on Grants for Places of Worship can also be found on the dedicated Historic Religious Buildings Alliance page.

  • We accept that the HLF puts a great deal of Lottery player’s money into places of worship each year through the Our Heritage and Heritage Grant Schemes. This money supports nationally important heritage and we are keen to see this continue. This debate is not about those processes or schemes.
  • The goal of the HLF is to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities. Church buildings are an excellent match to these goals. They are central to the heritage and sense of place of many towns and cities, giving a reason for people to visit to enjoy them. Churches serve communities now and, in good condition, will make a difference to people’s lives for many years into the future.
  • Church buildings are the largest sector of the heritage cared for by volunteers, and for whom heritage is not always their first reason for volunteering. It is entirely appropriate for the HLF to recognise this in a dedicated funding stream.
  • The Church of England raises around £75m a year for buildings work, excluding any government or lottery funding. We do not believe any other single set of heritage buildings raises so much. We are not asking for handouts, but match funding to support our continuing care for these amazing places.
  • GPOW is the successor to 40 years of State funding for places of worship and as such continues the recognition that places of worship are a distinct category within heritage; not primarily kept and viewed as heritage or financial assets, in the case of parish churches held in trust by volunteers on behalf of the whole community, performing a range of community functions, and needing additional focused support with repairs to maintain them. Heritage Grants and Our Heritage are less suited to fulfilling this key function.
  • In particular we believe that this move will aggravate an existing problem whereby poorer and less well-resourced churches are less able to access essential funding. We also believe that, at the other end of the scale, non-church heritage assets might feel they will lose out on funding, as churches represent 45% of England’s Grade I listed buildings, and will have a high level of need.
  • We believe the closure of GPOW, particularly without consultation or the carrying out of an impact assessment, is wrong. We urge HLF to reverse this decision.

Historic England’s position

As the Government’s advisor Historic England has not publicised an official position on the closure of GPOW. However their work on heritage at risk identifies the following:

“We have seen a steady increase over the past three years in the number and percentage of places of worship at risk in a poor condition, with 77.3% in 2015, and 82.4% in 2016.

Of all the places of worship on the 2016 Register, 67% have no solution agreed which is a significant increase (7%) from the previous two years (60% in 2015 and 60.2% in 2014).

This increase strongly supports the need for continued funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Grants for Places of Worship scheme.”

(Emphasis added; quoted from https://historicengland.org.uk/advice/heritage-at-risk/findings/)

The Church Buildings Council does not believe that GPOW should exist solely or primarily to address heritage at risk; rather we see it as an essential support for churches seeking to care for their buildings in order to do more mission and outreach work so that they remain living buildings in use for the purpose they were built for. However the fact that GPOW pays for repairs at a number of churches at risk is part of its importance and it is good that Historic England recognises this. We are engaging with Historic England to ensure the eventual outcome addresses their concerns as well as ours.

What the Church of England would want to see if the scheme is closed

The Church Buildings Council believes the closure of GPOW is a grave mistake. If it does go ahead then we will actively pursue all options for an equivalent scheme to be set up elsewhere. However we also believe that, if this decision is pushed through, there are key areas where changes could be made to mitigate what we fear would be the worst effects on churches.

Commitment and evaluation

  • A five-year commitment to a percentage of spend equivalent not just to GPOW but to the average total spend across all grant funds on listed places of worship in the past five years. This will allow us to accurately assess that the level of benefit remains the same for churches and cathedrals applying at all levels.
  • Measurement and evaluation ensure a similar number of projects benefit as currently do so under GPOW. It would be entirely possible to spend the whole historic GPOW budget on a few major church and cathedral projects, but this would be seriously detrimental to most parishes.
  • That the percentage of money spent on building repairs will remain equivalent to under GPOW.
  • A commitment to seek specific feedback from both successful and unsuccessful applicants throughout the five years in order that, at the end of the period, it can be fully evaluated.

Expertise and accreditation

The loss of the requirement for an accredited professional to carry out the work, and of Historic England’s involvement in assessing applications represents a considerable concern. Historic England’s expertise is a taxpayer-funded resource that added enormous value to churches. Their involvement reflects the primarily voluntary and non-expert nature of the majority of church applicants. Many like-for-like repair projects do not require a Faculty application and so Historic England’s involvement was the only point of external expert input, cementing GPOW as the highest quality of grant-giving. Losing this would be deeply regrettable.

  • We wish to see HLF engage with Historic England to find a way to retain their involvement.

On accredited professionals it is significant that the Home Countries Heritage Bodies now require an accredited conservation professional to carry out work funded by any of their grants[1]. It would be regressive for HLF to remove this requirement as others are adopting it.

  • We believe the requirement for accredited practitioners should be retained.

Criteria for applicants

GPOW, of all HLF’s schemes, is the one that most directly addresses risk to the heritage. This is a major difference from some other types of investment made by HLF. For most parishes, which rely on member subscriptions, gifts from supporters and grants from outside bodies, the prospect of an urgent and major repair without the support of a major grant-giver could be daunting. The condition of the building may deteriorate quickly leading to closure or partial closure on safety grounds or simple practicality. Experience shows that this is hard to recover from.

  • We wish to see recognition that investment to keep a building in use is a primary and proper priority of HLF funding . This would assuage many of our concerns; funding for repairs is a legitimate use of Lottery funds.

Of additional concern is the expanded outcomes of, in particular, Heritage Grants, when compared to GPOW. Whilst appreciating that the two GPOW outcomes are repeated in Heritage Grants criteria, and that applicants do not need to demonstrate they can meet all (or any) of the others, competition within the Heritage Grants scheme is a factor.

  • We wish to see the primacy of the two GPOW outcomes for church applications more clearly written into guidance for Heritage Grants, and included in staff and committee training, and communicated more effectively through local officers. Additionally it would be extremely encouraging to see this written into the decision-making criteria for regional and national panels. Making this commitment to the existing GPOW outcomes unequivocal would provide comfort and support to parishes committing often scarce voluntary resources to complete an application.

Our Heritage

Our Heritage is not a comparable scheme to GPOW; the single application stage (with no opportunity for development funding except through another scheme such as the Resilience Fund) and confused information over the level plans need to be at in order to make an application will put some parishes off.

However, Our Heritage is simpler to apply to than Heritage Grants. We believe that it could be a solution for some churches that will be disadvantaged by the closure of GPOW.

  • We wish to see the threshold raised from £100,000 to £250,000 so as to offer all churches that would currently apply to GPOW the option of Our Heritage. Last year 80% of Anglican applications to GPOW were above £100,000 and so a huge number of churches would be able to benefit from this change.
  • We would like to see specific wording added to the Our Heritage guidance for applicants on applying for capital works under this scheme.

What can dioceses and parishes do?

We ask that you carefully consider our position statement and decide if you are able to agree with it. In addition please consider our statement on how the effects of closure could be in part mitigated. Feedback on these issues would be welcome. In particular we are keen to understand if our proposal to ask for the Our Heritage threshold to be raised from £100k to £250k would be useful, or if the loss of a development phase would be too much of a cost to bear for grants of that size. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We would encourage churches to contact their local development team to express concerns and ask about support for parishes during the transition phase. This could be via a phone call, email or letter; we are not proposing a formal letter-writing campaign at this stage, but rather an effort to let HLF officers on the ground know the strength of local feeling. It would be beneficial if this could be done even by churches who are not currently applying for a grant, as we wish to let development teams know the extent of the concern. A list of the teams can be found here: https://www.hlf.org.uk/looking-funding/where-we-fund.

Becky Clark, Director of Churches and Cathedrals and Secretary of the Church Buildings Council

12 July 2017


[1] http://content.historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/education/position-statement-conservation-accreditation-lead-profesionals-repair-grants-dec16.pdf