• Tristan Lockheart
    116
    I have been told of a church where due to the cost of heating and maintenance of the Victorian church building, they are holding all services in the church hall. For context, the congregation is a little on the small side but the CofE is favouring it for additional funding. Is this sort of thing happening elsewhere?

    My concern is that if the CofE and indeed the congregations find it preferable to continue using halls or even schools etc. rather than traditional church buildings, is the rate of closure for churches with bells going to increase?
  • Simon Linford
    308
    That was the beginning of the end for St Luke's Blakenhall. Congregation decamped to the neighbouring school hall, church closed and sold to a property developer. Not come across any other examples of it yet though.
  • Roger Booth
    93
    I am sure that all sorts of things are happening elsewhere, and what is worrying is that the ringing community has not really woken up to this. A couple of miles from where I live is a church with a ring of five that were installed in 2009. There is no local band and we had not rung there since before Covid and when we sough permission about six weeks ago we were told that pigeons had got in and there was no power.

    With a tiny congregation there was no churchwarden, but we finally managed to get permission to inspect the bells about 10 days ago. Fortunately the pigeon had died and its carcass had been cleared away and it tuned out that the electric heating system in the whole church had been turned off to save money. As a result condensation was occurring and thick black mould was forming on the walls and ceiling of the nave.

    The church is one of four in the benefice, all close together and is now a 'festival' church with six services a year, most of which are 8am communions. There are at least two other festival churches in our district of 33 towers, and others with small congregations are having difficulty finding someone to take on the churchwarden role, so it is not just about clergy being stretched.

    Even quite a few of those that are not festival churches have less than one service a week, sometimes just one a fortnight or even once a month. So it is not just closures that we need to worry about.
  • J Martin Rushton
    101
    I'm afraid that this is a long-term trend. The last census showed that 46.2% of the population of England and Wales claimed to be some variety of Christian. The next largest group is "irreligion" at 37.2%. Faced with these figures and the continuing decline in attendance (often caused by ageing), the CofE needs to reconsider its organisation and buildings sooner than later. Other sects such as the Methodists, URC etc have slimmed down their estates but the CofE has two major problems not faced by the Free Churches. One is that so many parish churches are listed and the other is that most are surrounded by graveyards. This can make conversion to business premises or dwellings difficult, therefore expensive and as a result reduce the market values.

    How will this affect the exercise? Well I'm afraid we will have to accept that there will be less towers in the future. I hope that bells can be reallocated by the likes of the Keltek Trust. We probably need to plan and allow for retrenchment, just as the Church should be. It may be controversial, but we probably ought to be pressing for non-Anglican and secular rings to preserve the bells and the traditions. Perhaps some wedding venues could be persuaded to have proper bells installed?

    As regards "festival churches". Any building left unheated and untended apart from 8 days in the year will deteriorate. Not just the mould, but various rots and rusts. What will a parish with limited funds do when faced with buildings they are liable for which are decaying to the point of being dangerous?
  • John Harrison
    401
    On a more positive note, our services are currently being held in The Cornerstone (adjacent community centre owned by the church). The church building is being renovated and made more suitable for community use as well as services.
    We asked for the contractors to ensure we would still have access to the tower for practice and service ringing, and we are being encouraged to ring as often as possible to remind people that the church is still active despite being surrounded by builders fencing.
  • J Martin Rushton
    101
    That's a promising situation. Making the church more suitable for community use means that it will be heated and kept dry. A good alternative to selling it off. Getting back to the original issue of services in church halls, perhaps if the churches themselves were more flexible the churches could be retained as a combined hall and church, and flog off the new buildings?
  • John Harrison
    401
    We need both. The 'new building' in our case is about 20 years old, and was a major investment. The expanded function of the church building will complement it and couldn't possibly replace it. If interested, see: https://www.allsaintswokingham.org.uk/spaceforall/
  • J Martin Rushton
    101
    That's really good to hear. I was trying to make a more general point though, not just about your particular church. @Tristan Lockheart started the thread expressing concern about services being moved to church halls and away from the churches themselves. What I was suggesting (if somewhat clumsily) was that if the church buildings were reordered in some cases a modern church hall could be made redundant and the older church used as a combined space. Obviously only applicable in some cases. The fact that you need both clearly puts you outside of the churches where the clergy and choir outnumber the congregation.
  • John Harrison
    401
    I was trying to make a more general point though, not just about your particular churchJ Martin Rushton
    Of course - the general points are valid. I was merely trying to show that it wasn't gloom and doom everywhere. I did say 'On a more positive note...'.
    We are an expanding historic market town cum commuter town so very different from a typical small village. However, the need to find wider uses for church buildings within a community probably reads across. I recently looked up the process the CCT goes through before vesting a church, and finding new uses figures strongly, as well as heritage.
  • Tristan Lockheart
    116
    Making the church more suitable for community use means that it will be heated and kept dry. A good alternative to selling it off. Getting back to the original issue of services in church halls, perhaps if the churches themselves were more flexible the churches could be retained as a combined hall and church, and flog off the new buildings?J Martin Rushton

    Our church had work in the last decade to allow its use for other events and make it easier to use for church purposes. Carpeting, pews, kitchen, toilets etc. Someone on the PCC told us that these days, it would have cost just shy of £1m. This was primarily cosmetic, with the structure being well-maintained and without serious defects. Costs for churches in needs of structural repairs will be higher still! Good luck getting that sort of money if you don't have a strong congregation. The new buildings tend to be more structurally-sound, easier to maintain and more suited to modern uses. When it comes to a toss-up between the church and the hall, economically it'll be the hall most times, even if the church holds more valuable. It is often taught in Christianity that the people and the word are more important than the building.

    Insofar as it relates to ringing, we have to be prepared for a considerable reduction in the number of towers. What are the implications of considerably fewer towers for recruitment and retention? Where are the opportunities for relocated rings of bells, or will many be lost?
  • Roger Booth
    93
    What I was suggesting (if somewhat clumsily) was that if the church buildings were reordered in some cases a modern church hall could be made redundant and the older church used as a combined space.J Martin Rushton

    Having rung at several churches which have been reordered to enable seven days a week community use, there may be an unexpected problem for the ringers. In order to justify the investment, and pay for future upkeep the parish will be looking to hire out the building to various users, who will be paying a commercial fee for the use of the building. These uses may clash with the bells being rung in the tower. We've had to change a regular practice night when a community choir wished to practice in the church on those evenings instead. We've also had to avoid visiting bands on Monday evenings as Alcoholics Anonymous were using the meeting room for their meetings! To take priority over these other uses, ringers will need to pay a realistic fee for the use of the building.

    Also, it seems that many of these reordering's are when evangelical groups take over a dwindling church to turn it round by attracting a new younger congregation. Ringers who just ring the bells and who do not stay on to play a further part in the worship, are not seen as a priority.
  • Roger Booth
    93
    Insofar as it relates to ringing, we have to be prepared for a considerable reduction in the number of towers. What are the implications of considerably fewer towers for recruitment and retention? Where are the opportunities for relocated rings of bells, or will many be lost?Tristan Lockheart

    The problem is that we have significantly more bells than ringers, and there is a mismatch between where the towers are and where the ringers are. I’m not so sure that we will see a considerable reduction in the number of towers, instead we are likely to see the bells and towers retained, albeit that service frequency will be reduced to one or two a month, or even half a dozen a year.

    Consequently, many bands in the smaller villages will peter out, as the current generation of elderly ringers reach the end of their ringing careers. They haven’t been recruiting many new ringers, especially young ones, for decades, so it isn’t going to make a lot of difference.

    The larger villages may see groups of local people come together to get their silent bells ringing again, and if they are fortunate to be able to tap into a few experienced teachers, they will be able to establish a new band. Sometimes a benefice band will be established to help facilitate this, or perhaps ringers from a nearby market town will help.

    Drawing on my previous experience as a member of both the CCCBR’s Redundant Bells Committee and the CCCBR Ringing Centres Committee, I suspect that only the ‘best’ rings of bells will be saved, but there is then a problem of where to put them. Many parishes are struggling financially, so will be reluctant to take on a major financial commitment, unless there is a direct benefit to them. Also, it will be pointless putting these surplus rings into small village towers, where there will be limited prospect of them being rung. I can, however, see existing ‘poor’ rings of bells swapped for a ‘nice’ second-hand one – e.g. what has happened with the ten from Hanley.

    Also, I can’t see the justification for redundant bells to be used to create new ringing centres in an empty tower. The former CCCBR committee was approached to help establish several of these, but they were driven by the desire to re-home a set of bells, at significant expense. However, whilst an attractive idea, there was limited thought given to how these ringing centres were going to be staffed and operate, and there was often an existing suitable tower just up the road which could be used, for a fraction of the cost. It is the people side, rather than the hardware that is important in establishing a new ringing centre. That is why a number of us from the former committee were involved in setting up the Ringing Foundation and subsequently ART to address the fundamental problem of too many bells and not enough ringers..
  • Peter Sotheran
    124
    This happened 30 years ago in MIddlesbrough. The congregation diminished as the old urban terraced housing was replaced with new developments of car showrooms and light industrial units. The congregation of around 30 decamped to the adjacent church hall and the church was deconsecrated and sold. The single bell was retrieved and transferred to a neighbouring church.
  • Simon Linford
    308
    A few years back my building company rushed to the scene of the fire at Radford Semele and helped save the building by being quick off the mark. The church, which is a little out of the village centre, was subsequently restored.
    The vicar wasn't actually that happy. He said to me later that he had secretly hoped it would have been demolished, because then he would have got a new building in the village centre, easier to heat, maintain, get to, etc.
  • DRJA Dewar
    22
    It does, certainly, seem that ringing in Anglican churches is now realising a considerable threat.

    Are there any robust systems, working together and continuously with the CofE authorities, and actively aligned with any organisations looking for rings of bells? It may be that some preservation, albeit in different locations, might save bells themselves.

    It seems, from the periphery, that recruitment and retention of practitioners of the art is extremely piecemeal. I hope I will be proved wrong; however, the comparison with, say, 50 or even 30 years ago appears stark.

    When I started ringing I had also been studying organ for some time. The number of organs in decent repair was high, and churches were mostly happy to have them played. The same seemed to me to be generally true for bells. Numbers of ab initio recruits, and towers where there were sufficient adept ringers and ringing teachers abounded.

    In the interim, for the former, a number of factors have caused a semi-catastrophe in that the lack of support for proper services and choirs caused many (both congregants and musicians) to desert the church as a whole. 'Modern' practices arose during the 1950s and 1960s, prompted by a mis-directed view of what would stimulate increases in congregational numbers. The upshot being, allied with other factors, to drive many previously supportive individuals away from churches. For music, the misplaced addition of carpets, etc., further mitigated strongly against anyone wanting to make music in the places. (Carpet being so dampening to the acoustic as to make performance both difficult and unrewarding.)

    I have noticed, in several places where enthusiasm for reordering has driven away stalwarts of the church, especially choirs, whose membership often includes those who simultaneously provide much of the person-power to make things happen in the building, who stand for PCC membership, become churchwardens, sacristans, vergers, sides-people, provision of refreshments, running fundraising events, and whom are often the largest financial contributors to the church. Once driven away, they seldom return.

    The organ (not choral) world has responded by setting up methods to relocate instruments to places where they will be welcome. Initially, this was to transplant them to other, more welcoming, churches - though, often, the physical process would involved not only tonal alterations to fit the new space, but layout changes, too. More recently - over several years - instruments from this nation are snapped up by church overseas, particularly in Benelux and France. Enquirers from those places are astounded at how many neglected but easily refurbished instruments are available at relatively low cost. They cannot understand the mentality of British church custodians who voluntarily give up sought after elements of heritage. There are, in the organ world, a few builders who will actively seek redundant instruments, refurbish them, and make contact with others who wish to acquire them. These individuals perform a fine service to the presence of the 'English heritage' of instruments - even if the instruments end up in another nation. However, they are few in number, and have to sustain their main work. They enable preservation of a tradition.

    It seems that bells may go the same way. Is there a similar body to that which I have described above which can act, at least, as a clearing point? Keeping a watching brief for wherever redundant rings may find a new home, and preferably an active notification policy for what and where is available, is needed. As has been noted, though, the trend for increased physical comfort on the part of congregations (and clergy) by using secular or other edifices supplied, often, with the sort of heating which produces wild changes of humidity and temperature must provide both bells, ringers, musicians, and instruments with an almost intractable problem for preservation. The organ world has such entities as BIOS (British Institute of Organ Studies) which, inter alia, has a variety of volunteers who assess and document instruments in well-known and also obscure buildings. Those especially worth preservation are provided with various certifications of aspects of special interest and significance. These, in the Anglican sense, can make destruction, etc., less easy as DACs take the certificate into account. (Perhaps some other denominations also have such bodies, but I do not know.) Dioceses, too, have, a competent adviser to the DAC, usually named as Diocesan Organ Adviser - and these individuals report to the DAC as to whether an instrument should be enabled for removal or should be maintained/rebuilt. Thus there exists at least some protection.

    Perhaps there is some sharing of ideas between ringers and those organists and enthusiasts working for preservation in their own fields. I hope so - otherwise such perhaps might be instituted and coordinated.
  • J Martin Rushton
    101
    I lived in Middlesbrough in the '70s and saw exactly the changes you mention. The St. Hilda's district (Mum taught at the school) was gradually reduced to a wasteland with packs of dogs roaming the street, all the while the southern boundary of the town was expanding. Dad was a Methodist Minister there and had to supervise the closure of several chapels which were simply in the wrong place with no-one living near them. However I see that even Avenue Methodist, which used to be the centre of the circuit, closed 10 years ago and is now a "Community Project" with the church apparently only used for weddings.
  • John Harrison
    401
    The parallel with the organ world is interesting, and we probably could learn from it, but there seem to be some key differences.
    The demand for instruments in the near continent is presumably backed by plenty of buildings that need an organ and have the space and the cash, and competent organists able to make good use of them from day one. That's not true for full circle rings of bells. There might be buildings with the space but bands of ringers would need to be built from the ground up, making it a less attractive proposition.
    The demand for bells (as opposed to full circle rings) would no doubt be greater, but that would not help to preserve the tradition of full circle ringing, or English style installations.
  • J Martin Rushton
    101
    Some of the organs go to private houses. Obviously not the larger ones, but the smaller "chapel" organs are sometimes snapped up by private buyers and exported.
  • DRJA Dewar
    22

    Yes.

    I understand, though, that most cases of British organs going to continental churches are cases where the previous instrument was failing in some way for another, and the authorities sourced an instrument (from this landmass) which they felt suited them, had a decent provenance, and represented a tradition of organ building separate from that in their own nation.
  • DRJA Dewar
    22

    It is interesting that many instruments of small specification are indeed being transported to the continent. Frequently these will be of Victorian provenance from non-conformist buildings.
  • DRJA Dewar
    22
    P.S. I didn't wish to high-jack a debate for the ringing community, just to adduce a process used in relation to to other large and valuable assets to be found in churches of various types.
  • Tristan Lockheart
    116
    It seems that bells may go the same way. Is there a similar body to that which I have described above which can act, at least, as a clearing point? Keeping a watching brief for wherever redundant rings may find a new home, and preferably an active notification policy for what and where is available, is needed.DRJA Dewar

    Sounds like the Keltek Trust to me. They seem to be doing quite a good job so far, but I suppose they can only deal with a certain volume given the level of demand. @Roger Booth's prediction of people trading their bells for nicer rings sounds interesting - it sounds like now is the time to work through your Dove's guide if you're a tower grabber who goes after "interesting" bells...
  • Peter Sotheran
    124
    Aha! Happy memories of St Hilda's Church - 'over the border' in the depths of darkest dockland. After the church was declared redundant and stripped bare, a 'last ring' on the bells was arranged before the church was demolished. Part way through the session, on a Saturday afternoon, the police arrived and advised the ringers to terminate the meeting. Apparently the ringing was disturbing the sleep of the local ladies who worked a 'horizontal night shift' and a large crowd of their burly 'best friends' was milling around outside the church and threatening to sort out the ringers! The ringers were escorted to safety by the police.

    St Hilda's Bells are now an 'architectural feature in Middlesbrough's modern town centre, standing opposite All Saints Church and with a pre-programmed touch of Erin Triples to drive their electro-magnetic 'bell sloggers'.

    [img]http://St Hilda's bells opposite All Saints Church Middlesbrough.jpg[/img]
  • Tristan Lockheart
    116
    Never mind church halls, Porthmadog's church has relocated to this rather petite former dentist's surgery! The latest I heard, the Porthmadog bells were to be relocated to Betws-y-Coed, which as the headquarters church of the local ministry area of 7 churches has weekly services and thus a more secure future than many churches in Wales.
  • Peter Sotheran
    124
    It's been done many times in the past. Newport Church in Middlesbrough (no bells) was intended to be the cathedral for the new victorian industrial town and seated almost 2000. Fifty years ago the congregation had dwindled to about 3 dozen and they abandoned the church and all worship and parish activities transferred to the adjacent church hall.
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