Church Commissioners Written Answers: Cathedrals, Church Repair and Maintenance, and Support for Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

Andrew Selous MP, representing the Church Commissioners, gave the following written answerto questions from MPs on 2nd December 2022:

Jim Shannon MP (DUP): To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, in what way cathedrals are supporting community cohesion in communities they serve.

Andrew Selous MP (Con): First and foremost cathedrals are places of worship, but like parish churches they are also community buildings and often a focus for civic gatherings of faith, political and business leaders in our cities, which facilitate discussions for the common good. They are regularly used for pilgrimages, festivals, concerts, exhibitions and lectures, which are open to all in the community.

The 2021 report by the Association of English Cathedrals (Economic Social Impacts of England’s Cathedrals(opens in a new tab)) put the combined economic value of cathedrals at approximately £235 million in local spending per year

Some examples of community cohesion projects include:

  • Bradford Cathedral‘s Faiths Trail, which offers opportunities to link visitors to worship spaces in the city, including the cathedral, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a gurdwara.
  • In Birmingham Cathedral a new Common Wealth table installation in the grounds has been booked for cross-faith community conversations.
  • Winchester Cathedral’s Christmas market attracts over 400,000 visitors annually, generating local employment and offering local craftspeople an opportunity to showcase their work.
  • St Edmundsbury Cathedral hosted a summer flower festival this year to celebrate 1,000 years of the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, and has hosted an animatronic dinosaur, science and art activities during the school holidays, and film screenings and lectures.
  • Liverpool Cathedral held a charity abseil down its tower to support local initiatives with 800 people taking part. It has an annual sleepout to raise money for the Whitechapel Centre homeless project, hosts a community market and provides hospitality to the local community.
  • Gloucester Cathedral has recently employed a full-time member of staff as a Community Engagement Manager, reflecting the amount of outreach work the Cathedral does. It has run a regular breakfast club for the homeless twice a week since 2007. More recently, the cathedral has started a gardening group and a walking rugby group. The Cathedral also regularly exhibits the work of a formerly homeless photographer, to raise awareness of the level of homelessness in the city.
  • Leicester Cathedral has run a series of local community arts events in partnership with local schools.
  • Norwich Cathedral hosted ‘Dippy the Dinosaur’ this year, on loan from the Natural History Museum, and also regularly hosts art and music events for the county.

More details on the economic and social impact of England’s cathedrals are available in the Association of English Cathedrals Report: Economic Social Impacts of England’s Cathedrals

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Jim Shannon MP: To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church is taking to plan for long-term maintenance of its churches and cathedrals.

Andrew Selous MP: The Cathedral and Church Buildings team of the National Church Institutions (NCIs) are working closely with the cathedrals and major churches of the Church of England to evaluate the overall maintenance work required. The Church Commissioners are providing £11million in funding for 2023-25 to support a new “Buildings for Mission” programme to provide support, through dioceses, to local parishes with the challenges they face in maintaining their church buildings

The Church is grateful to the Government for its support for cathedrals and major churches during the pandemic when the Culture Recovery Fund made over £60.6m available to 582 parishes and cathedrals. The Church advocates for the continuation of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme, worth up to £42m a year, until a suitable alternative can be found. The NCIs are working closely with Government, heritage partners and philanthropic funders, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund in response to its recent strategic review.

The Church awaits the response of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to the recommendations made by the Government’s independent review led by Bernard Taylor into the sustainability of Church buildings, which was published in 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/english-churches-and-cathedrals-sustainability-review

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Jim Shannon MP: To ask the Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church is taking to help support (a) family relationships, (b) parenting and (c) marriage.

Andrew Selous MP: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Families and Households is considering all aspects of this subject and will publish its report in early 2023. The Church of England’s support for families, parenting and marriage comes in many forms. Parishes offer:

  • early years groups and children’s clubs to support child development and provide parental support.
  • counselling and social support for those in need, such as work with foodbanks, credit unions and Citizens Advice to reduce the pressures of financial difficulty on relationships.
  • marriage guidance for couples wishing to marry, prior to the ceremony.
  • work with organisations such as Relate to offer relationship advice and support or counselling.
  • tackling loneliness in the young and old, by visiting people in care homes and hospitals, and by providing spaces for groups, clubs and societies to meet.

Nationally the Church of England provides resources to clergy and couples considering marriage through the ‘Your Church Wedding’ website: https://www.churchofengland.org/life-events/your-church-wedding(opens in a new tab) This gives advice for couples at all stages of marriage preparation.

Marrying in the local church remains one of the most cost-effective ways of having a relationship recognised in law and costs around £550 (approved by Parliament). This fee can be reduced for pastoral reasons at the discretion of the local Incumbent.

The National Churches Trust report ‘House for Good’ has updated its estimates of the contribution of churches to their local community. The report estimates the national value of the Church’s work on counselling and mental health support at over £4.5million, work with youth groups and young people at an additional £1.8million, support with food and foodbanks at £36million and drug and alcohol support at £0.5million. The full update is available here: House of Good 2021

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