On the 29 February 2016 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Mrs Caroline Spelman, briefly contributed to a debate on the Funding Order for the Churches Conservation Trust.
Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Early in his remarks my right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the fact that a few of the churches are isolated, with no natural community around them. Does he agree that the Churches Conservation Trust provides a wider benefit to the local rural community by creating jobs that bring people in to repair and maintain these precious buildings?
Mr Evennett: I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. Before I answer it, I congratulate her on her superb work as a Church Commissioner. She is always hard at work on such matters. I totally agree with her: we want to bring new life into our rural communities, and if we can use churches to do that, we should. I mentioned earlier the innovative champing initiative. In a rural area that might be just what is needed. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments. We would warmly welcome and encourage any developments that bring tourism, jobs and opportunities to rural areas.
In the past year the trust has saved for the nation three additional churches of exceptional merit, all of which are grade I listed. It will cost an average of £300,000 each to bring recent or upcoming acquisitions into a suitable condition so that they can be safely opened to the public and equipped for community use.
The trust’s primary objective, and the greatest call on its funds, is the conservation of its churches, particularly upon vesting, when buildings might have been out of use for a number of years. The trust has an excellent reputation for the quality of its conservation work. In 2015, it won the European Union prize for cultural heritage, the Europa Nostra award, in recognition of its role in promoting the architectural significance of historical places of worship and their essential function as centres of community life. The work and expense do not end there. With an estate of 347 buildings that could and should be serving communities, there is a rolling programme of repair needs, and new facilities are needed where consents can be granted.
In autumn 2014, the trust opened a new flagship urban project that saw the rescue and adaptation of All Souls church in Bolton for modern community use. With the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the £4 million project has conserved the grade II* listed church in a disadvantaged area of the north-west in which the majority of the residents are from an ethnic minority background and put it back into the hands of the community. Hi-tech internal pods provide space and amenities for the whole local community, small business and arts use, while the historical fabric has been beautifully restored. The building is now being run by a newly constituted community group, its facilities are fully booked and it will be self-sustaining in the long term.