• A J Barnfield
    152
    The question: where is the money coming from?

    Possible answer: local taxation, or selling beer. Perhaps both.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/31/churches-banks-serve-beer-community-legacy?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    Is his estimate of 350 churches at risk of closure realistic?
  • Alison Hodge
    97
    That sounds low as it is only an average of about 8 per Diocese.
    However, 350 may be realistic in the 5 years cited. It will take a long time to take the decisions on which to close and how, even for those already the most at risk. The bigger problem may actually emerge after that when there will have been test cases established on the processes and mechanisms to use, momentum gathers, aging population aged further, more fabric deterioration, more online events etc.
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    I agree. The slow rate of closure over the next few years might make us complacent. Rather like with the railways once closure becomes normalised the rate of closure could be rapid.
  • Barbara Le Gallez
    36
    Our church has just set up a Friends group to organise events, secular uses etc, just as described in the article. The aim being to make the church building into a successful community resource which will be available for [almost] anything. The Friends are very keen on bellringing, as a community use which already exists. If they can succeed, then there is no fear of closure despite the small, ageing congregation.
  • Simon Linford
    178
    I think that is what will happen in many places where there is just one building and a community, provided the building is not in bad condition already. Churches cost a lot to heat, maintain and insure. There could be a lot of pressure on groups of churches where they just aren't all needed.

    The level of listing is actually quite an important consideration in this. Any church that is Grade I listed will end up in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, so bells in such churches are likely to be safe. CCT does care about bells, although they do not necessarily have funds to prioritise their upkeep or improvement. A church that is Grade II* is quite difficult for the Church Commissioners and Dioceses to sell because they present planning challenges so they are likely to hang around longer. The riskiest ones are those that are just Grade II because they are more developable and hence more saleable.

    I was talking to Peter Aiers at the CCT a few months back and looking at his map of where their churches are. They have hardly any in the South West, and he said that is because there is a far lower average level of listing in the South West and relatively few Grade Is. Having spent a week in Devon last week it did sem that churches and towers are less ornate - perhaps it is something about building to survive coastal weather conditions, something about the available stone, or some other quirk of history.
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    How many churches with rings of bells are Grade II listed? How many churches with rings of bells are not listed at all?
  • Simon Linford
    178
    That's a good question. I would think that more are Grade I than Grade II but it will differ in different parts of the country. I would be surprised if there are many rings of bells in unlisted churches.
  • Phillip Barnes
    2
    Using data from Dove, excluding rings described as privately owned or owned by "Trusts" (such as the Lichfield Belfry) and looking at England and Wales only since other countries have different listing systems, this is the breakdown for rings of 3 and above:

    Grade Unringable Ringable Grand Total
    I 431 2827 3258
    II* 401 2200 2601
    II 132 798 930
    None 3 74 77
    Total 967 5899 6866

    These figures include 117 (of the total of about 350) those in the care of the CCT - presumably the rest do not have rings of bells. These are 74 listed Grade I, 41 Grade II* and 2 Grade II. It strikes me that even a modest closure programme is likely to overwhelm the CCTs ability to deal with them without a serious change in their funding.
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    Thank you. That is helpful. What I am struggling with, with this on other aspects of ringing, is getting much of a feeling for where we are going. Extent and time scales of closures still seems to be far from clear. It will probably differ in different parts of the country but might be anything from not much worse that is has been over recent years through significant to catastrophic. Chrystal ball anyone?
  • Simon Linford
    178
    Again in discussions with Peter Aiers at CCT he says how the Government recognises the fundng requirement of the CCT if more churches are going to go their way.

    Did you see the analysis of the GS2222 consultation that has been published in advance of the next General Synod? It included this table which shows how the rate of closures has actually slowed down in recent decades! Maybe we didn't really notice before or are just fearing much worse?

    moqeq4lo7zbawdr0.jpg
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    If I had seen that I had forgotten. So thank you. So going back to the start of the thread, 350 churches at risk is not too much of a worry (but perhaps depending on which ones are in the 350). I think we must be fearing that things might be worse, or much worse. I think the Big Worry must be that once things start to go they might gather momentum, become an accepted norm, and could be devastating. Perhaps not. I am good at catastrophising, if nothing much else.
  • Simon Linford
    178
    Joined yesterday by Mark Regan for a very productive discussion with the Bishop of Ramsbury (I had to look that up!) who is Lead Bishop for church and cathedral buildings, so has the 'brief' of coming up with strategies for keeping buildings open. He is absolutely committed to finding ways to keep buildings open, explore new uses, shared uses, etc. He referred back to some of the bad decisions made in the 1970s when so many churches were closed and didn't think that would be repeated. Very encouraging.
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    Good news then. That approach might not only keep buildings open but do a lot to further ringing with a closer integration of buildings and local communities.
  • Roger Booth
    25
    The problems for ringing are far more than just the risk of closure of say 350 churches. In far more cases, even if a church is kept open, the frequency of services may be reduced to once or twice a month, as parishes are combined into larger benefices sharing a priest. Within a 5 mile radius of where I now live in Hampshire there are two rings of six and a ring of five in small villages where there is just one main monthly service and perhaps an 8am communion or weekday service once or twice a month as well. Realistically there is no prospect of establishing a local band. Encouraging ringers from other towers in the benefice to ring in these towers is not easy as even they are now struggling with reduced numbers after the pandemic.

    We also have a cultural problem about where we should direct our resources in future. Is it hardware, or people. Two of the three towers are major restorations and augmentations which have taken place in the past two decades.

    A third issue comes from my experience in London in the 1980's and 1990's where significant money was invested in making church buildings suitable for community use. We then found that the community spaces were hired out to various groups most days. We couldn't hold a practice on Monday evenings because of the community choir were rehearsing below Tuesdays the parish room next to the tower was being used by Al Anon., etc., etc. As ringers we are used to a cheap hobby as it was traditionally seen as a service to the church. Even if an active church or a CCT one becomes a teaching centre, we are going to have to make a larger financial contribution than we have done in the past
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    I don't argue with any of that.
  • Simon Linford
    178
    Experience at St Martin's in the Bull Ring is a case in point. Traditional Tuesday night practice, albeit only every other week, which was suspended for lockdown. Then when we came out of lockdown we find that the church has been unable to resist a financial offer from a choir to use the church to practice on a Tuesday evening so we cannot start ringing until 8.30 (which we did in fact on Tuesday which is quite late to start a quarter of Bristol Maximus!). Up against paying uses ringing is not going to compete.

    When we were working on the plans for a ringing centre at St John's Hanley, being an owner of the building I looked at what the ringers would need to be charged for a lease of the tower and it was going to be a minimum of £2000 a year. There wasn't really a business plan for the ringing centre that could pay for the space it used - it could only really cover maintence of the hardware plus operational costs such as heat light and power.
  • A J Barnfield
    152
    But that is only £40 a week. Sounds cheap.
  • Phillip George
    30
    Re you first paragraph about infrequent services and poor prospects of establishing local bands. An additional, related problem here is maintenance of the tower and the bells. Speaking generally I would suggest that most PCCs have no idea what is in the tower, or its condition (apart from the architect's quinquennial). They rely on ringers to regularly inspect and maintain the installation. Emphasis needs to be placed on care of the bells even more nowadays.
  • Roger Booth
    25
    I'm not even sure that the inspecting Architect or Surveyor would spot many of the issues that an experienced steeple-keeper would spot. The problem is that many ringers are now quite old, and there are less people with the energy and skills to go out and look after these towers. Some Guilds and Associations are contributing towards periodic maintenance inspections by a professional bell-hanger. Several of these can be undertaken in the same area in the same day, making this relatively inexpensive. However, as with the other issues, it comes down to the ringing community needing to make a reasonable financial contribution in future.
  • Phillip George
    30
    Yes, I think you are right about architects. I accompanied ours last year so that I was on hand for any questions. The reason this happened was because I liaise very closely with the churchwardens on all things bells, and they asked me if I would attend. I was able to tell the architect that the belfry is cleaned every year (as with the tower as a whole) and the installation regularly inspected. But, I am in the category of an older ringer and not sure how many more years I can crawl about the place with Henry, much as I enjoy it. Planning for succession is difficult because of the skill, experience and dedication required by new steeple keepers. I am sure that most ringers think that the bells and tower look after themselves! This subject is slightly off original topic but one which would be usefully discussed by ringers/associations etc.
  • Alison Hodge
    97
    Since this seems to be diverging from the original topic of keeping churches open, i will start a new discussion under "Running a tower" about the environment and conditions in bell towers
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