Body and Soul
Loyd Grossman on heritage, community and 40 years of The Churches Conservation Trust
|Loyd Grossman, Chairman of The Churches Conservation Trust
Originally from New England,
Loyd Grossman moved to the UK in
the mid-seventies. After completing
an MSc at the London School of Economics,
he established a career in journalism and
broadcasting. Perhaps best known for his
involvement in the television programmes
Through the Keyhole and Masterchef and, more
recently, for the famous line of sauces that
bears his name, he has also been an energetic
promoter of a wide range of charities. He
has been especially active in the support of
museums, galleries, libraries and architectural
heritage, and has been a commissioner of
English Heritage (1997-2003) and of the Royal
Commission on the Historical Monuments
of England (1999-2003). In July 2007, he
was appointed chairman of The Churches
Due to celebrate its 40th anniversary next
year, The Churches Conservation Trust is a
national charity which conserves historically
or architecturally significant Church of
England churches that are no longer used
for regular parish worship. It promotes the
public use and enjoyment of these churches
as educational and community resources.
The trust receives much-needed core funding
from the Department for Culture, Media
and Sport and the Church Commissioners.
However, apart from a one-off increase in
2008, the grant has been frozen since 2001,
while each year the number of churches in
its care increases and the cost of specialised
conservation and community work escalates.
You can find out more about the trust on
its website, www.visitchurches.org.uk.
HC: Perhaps you could start by telling us a little
about your personal interest in heritage
LG: Well, I was born in Boston and I grew up
there and in a very beautiful colonial fishing
town just up the coast called Marblehead,
so I was fortunate enough to be raised in a
beautiful historic environment. Boston has
incredible architecture and Marblehead has
some of the best late 17th and 18th century
architecture in coastal New England, as
does its neighbouring town, Salem. I never
had to be formally taught that old buildings
have a tremendous value to everyone’s life,
it was just something I was surrounded by.
In an environment that’s so beautiful and so
interesting, you immediately come to value
what they now call ‘the built heritage’… we just
used to call it ‘old buildings’!
So that’s really how I got involved in
heritage conservation, I felt so privileged to
have a childhood in that environment that
I realised how important and enriching it
was to make the historic environment part of
people’s everyday lives.
Being in Boston in particular was a
great environment because it has one of the
earliest examples of how historic buildings
can be used for regeneration. That was Quincy
Market, where they took the early 19th century
marketplace and used its restoration as a focus
to regenerate a whole area of the city. It was
done by a really visionary architect called Ben
Thompson, who subsequently became hugely
So I just felt determined that I’d like
everyone who wants to, to be able to enjoy
the benefits of beautiful and interesting old
buildings. So I never really approached it from
an academic angle, it was always something
that I thought was a terrific part of life.
HC: Is there a particular period or style of church
architecture that especially fires your interest?
LG:Probably because I’m a Yank, I like the
really old stuff – I mean, I really love Norman
churches but on the other hand some of
the most beautiful churches in the trust’s
portfolio are late Victorian. I have a very open
mind about that; I love the work of [George
Edmund] Street and [Alfred] Waterhouse and
those people just as much as I love the work of
the anonymous Norman stonemasons.
HC: What first piqued your interest in the work of
The Churches Conservation Trust?
LG: I became quite involved in museums and
galleries and heritage ‘stuff’ beginning in the
mid-nineties, and I found out specifically
about The Churches Conservation Trust when
Liz Forgan was appointed chair and very kindly
began sending me the annual reports.
As someone who is an immigrant, one of
the things that struck me most about England
was the number and the significance and,
of course, the beauty of its parish churches.
What’s more symbolic of England than the
parish church? It’s everything: the history, the
community and the spirit of the nation. From
the time I moved here in 1975, visiting parish
churches was something I always did because
their variety is quite extraordinary and wherever
you are you’re not that far from a parish church.
The Church of England has got 12,000
listed buildings under its belt. That is quite an
extraordinary achievement; there is almost
nothing in the world to equal our national
collection of parish churches.
|St Mary’s, Redgrave, Suffolk: view across the nave from the south aisle showing the 14th-century piers,
15th-century roof and clerestory windows, and 18th-century hatchments. (Photo: CCT/Steve Cole)
HC: Could you tell us a little about your role as
chairman of The Churches Conservation Trust
and the ethos that, for you, underpins it?
LG: Well, we have an incredible professional
staff and thanks to them and their expertise
our conservation work gets talked about by
people from all over the world. We are all
incredibly proud of the standard of the work we
produce. I think our churches are beautifully
and intelligently looked after. And the job
of the chair and the other trustees is to lead
the organisation strategically, to make sure
it is adequately funded, and then also just to
look after the basic principles of corporate
governance, which all boards and trustees look
after. Essentially, the chair, in collaboration with
the executive, tries to steer the organisation in a
way that will bring great public benefit.
HC: Given that we have so many historically and
architecturally significant buildings, why do you
feel that historic churches are worth conserving?
Why are they a special case?
LG: I think they’re a special case because
almost without exception the parish church
is the most significant building in any
neighbourhood and looking at our parish
churches you see the whole history of England
imprinted on them, inside and out. They’re
not just fine examples of architecture, they
symbolise a sort of aspiration. They were
always meant to be very big, bold, vivid
representations of human hopes and I think
that’s of value to everyone, not just to people
who would consider themselves members of
the Church of England. I think anyone can be
inspired by parish churches.
That spiritual element is very important for
the trust. I mean, our churches are no longer
in regular use but they are all consecrated
buildings and that lends them a special quality.
We try very hard to keep in mind that that
consecrated quality has a lot to offer people, so
it’s not just about the fabric, it’s about the spirit
of the place.
HC: That’s interesting, I’ve just been reading
Sir Roy Strong’s A Little History of the English
Country Church, and he talks near the end of
the book about the way churches historically
combined secular functions and spaces with
sacred and spiritual ones. Is that something
we need to be getting back to?
LG: Yes, I was really very, very much behind
Roy’s recent campaigning, because in order
to keep these buildings going they have to
return to being useful centres of local life. I’m
increasingly convinced that, looking at heritage
in general, this is not restricted to parish
churches: we have to look at supporting the
heritage in a completely different way.
One of the iron rules of historic buildings
is that the longer they’re around the more they
fall down and the more expensive they become
to maintain. So rather than having endless
emergency surgery, what we really need is to
create situations in which historic buildings are
used, because when buildings are used they are
There will always be a certain number
of iconic trophy buildings that have to be
preserved at any cost, but most architecturally
and historically important buildings need to
be used in order to survive. Also, when they’re
not used they become much less interesting.
There’s nothing worse than going into a
building that’s been completely museum-ified,
which has had the life taken out of it.
We need to find a way in which we can be
sure that the bulk of our historic environment
is used, because if it’s used it’s loved and if
it’s loved people feel ownership, and then the
funding and the sustainability flow from that.
HC: Can the trust help churches regain their
status as symbolic centres of local life and
LG: Yes, I think one of the outstanding
examples of that is a very big urban church
called All Souls in Bolton, which, like many
inner city churches, was built for a very
big Victorian congregation. Subsequently,
the demographics of the whole area have changed and All Souls finds itself the most
prominent building in a predominantly
Muslim neighbourhood. So here we have a big
beautiful unused church and it’s a building that
is slowly declining because it’s not being used
and the local population has no special affinity
with it. So we got together and began talking
to local community groups and encouraging
a joint solution to the question of what to do
with the church. The trust and the community
groups came up with a fabulous scheme of
turning it into a multi-purpose community
centre which would both preserve the fabric
of the church and also make sure that the
people who lived around it used it and felt a
sense of pride and ownership in it. After a lot
of negotiating, begging and creativity, we are
thrilled to have got £3.5 million pounds for
All Souls, Bolton from the Heritage Lottery
Fund and it will be re-opening as a lively,
vibrant community centre for the local Muslim
community while still retaining its status as a
consecrated Church of England church and
a very important Victorian building in an
interesting neighbourhood. So that’s a very
creative solution to a very common difficulty.
The big city centre churches are very
problematical because they’re so big. There’s
another All Souls, in Halifax, a vast Gilbert
Scott church, a major landmark in Halifax.
We’ve had to look at the simple-sounding but
very complex issues there, like how do we
make sure the roof doesn’t leak? That’s a big
and expensive exercise. We have to make sure
that that building, which is so prominent and
so well loved in Halifax, is in good shape.
|The effigies of Nicholas Bacon
and Anne Butts at St Mary’s, Redgrave, carved by Nicholas Stone in 1624. (Photo: CCT/Steve Cole)
I think there are now 341 churches in
the care of the trust, ranging from the tiny
medieval church in a field to these big urban
churches, and every single one of them
needs a different solution. There’s a very
interesting one, a very beautiful late medieval
church, St Mary’s at Redgrave in Suffolk,
and a lot of the work we’re doing there has
to do with kitchen sink stuff which is very
basic but which is still incredibly important.
Namely, if you want a church to be used
by the community for, let’s say, theatre,
exhibitions, band rehearsals or whatever, it’s
got to have loos, it’s got to have a kitchen
and we’ve got to figure out ways of doing
that which are consistent with the listed
status of the building, the consecrated status
of the building, and the aesthetics of the
building, and then pay for it and see that the
job is done properly. So every single church
under our care is completely different and
requires a different solution to its problems.
HC: And I suppose no church is exempt from the
problems associated with paying the bills: many
of the big cathedrals and abbeys have had to look
for new sources of revenue.
LG: Yes, they have huge financial pressures
on them. The cost of making sure a medieval
building is in good shape is astronomical.
HC: Is it legitimate, do you think, for those
buildings to charge entrance fees?
LG: Well, I think the cathedrals have had to
charge. When they started charging there
was a sort of gasp of horror. But, you know,
everything somehow has got to be paid for. It’s
rather like when national museums stopped
charging: the money still had to be found
somewhere. There is no such thing as a free
museum, it’s just a question of how it’s paid for.
So many of our cathedrals now have
terrific catering, they have great bookshops,
they’ve got good at that sort of thing, and as
long as they can do that without altering the
character of the building, the character of the
experience, then that’s what they have to do in
order to raise the money.
HC: Faith tourism is a very topical issue – in fact
it’s something we’ll be exploring elsewhere in this
edition of Historic Churches.
LG: It’s a growing thing. The financial pressures on historic buildings become bigger and
bigger, which is why it’s incredibly important
that the public should understand what their
value is, because we do rely very heavily
on the state and indeed it quite probably
is the responsibility of the state to provide
a very great deal of funding to the historic
environment. But also there’s a sustainability
issue which requires as much income
generating as possible whilst maintaining the
greatest amount of access.
|Sir George Gilbert Scott’s All Souls,
Haley Hill, Halifax, West Yorkshire (Photo: CCT/
HC:> Is the trust projecting, and preparing for, a
major increase in church redundancies?
LG: Well, I think we’re aware of the fact that
redundancies increase. For the first time, we
have a full-time member of staff who is in a
sort of preventive medicine role, discussing
possible redundancies with the Church
Commissioners before they happen and
seeking remedies, because of course there’s a
limit to the number of churches the trust can
reasonably afford to look after. And a creative
approach to possible redundancies before they
become a fact is something that we are very,
very keen on.
HC: What aspect of your work for the trust do
you enjoy the most?
LG: Looking at the churches! I think that all
trustees find this in common: inevitably the
business of boards is about business, it’s about
balance sheets and cash flow, because that’s
what boards have to be incredibly attentive to.
But the real thrill is remembering that all the
housekeeping that we do is in aid of our goal,
which is seeing that our beautiful churches
are well looked after and available to as many
people as possible.
We have an annual trustees tour when we
spend four days in a particular area and for our
last tour we were in Yorkshire. It was fantastic
because for four days all we did was look at
beautiful, albeit sometimes problematical,
parish churches. Also, it’s always a great
pleasure working with people who know what
they’re talking about.
HC: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to
add: anything that I should have asked you that
LG: I don’t think so, but I’d like to stress
that next year’s a big year for us because it’s
our 40th anniversary, and one of the things
that most impresses me about the whole
organisation – staff, trustees, friends and
supporters – is that while we are very, very
proud of what we’ve done and how well we’ve
done it, we all have a great determination to do
more and to keep trying to do it better. As I’ve
said to other people, no one goes into church
conservation to get rich and famous; we
believe that historic churches are of immense,
irreplaceable value to the nation and we’re
determined to do everything we can for them.
HC: We wish you every success. Thank you very
much for talking to us.
article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2008
LOYD GROSSMAN OBE FSA was talking to Historic Churches' Deputy Editor, DAVID BOULTING.
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