The Building Decayeth
A pioneering maintenance service has been field-tested
Trivial things are
not done, a DAC Secretary told me, and disproportionate problems result.
'Well', said a secretary from another diocese, 'if you are going to check
over churches, at least we might see less grass growing in the gutters'.
Check over churches
we did and there is, or should be, less grass than there was. But we were
covering only a small area of the country and only for a limited time,
so how is keeping the gutters running clear and William Morris’ ‘staving
off decay by daily care’ to be organised in the future?
THE PILOT PROGRAMME
checks were part of a recent pilot programme in the Bath area mounted
by Maintain our Heritage (MoH). The pilot, the first of its kind in this
country, aimed to demonstrate that maintenance inspections are practical
and worthwhile. Backed by English Heritage and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation,
it ran for just over a year.
Although the pilot
was open to buildings of all kinds, we found that take-up was strongest
amongst places of worship. Twelve came forward to join the pilot, almost
a sixth of the 73 buildings inspected in total. The 12 were: 10 Anglican
churches (covering the Dioceses of Bath & Wells, Bristol and Gloucester),
a Friends meetinghouse and the disused chapel of a country house. The
pilot also covered a range of houses, educational buildings and others
including two chapels converted to other uses.
One reason why interest
from churches was strong was that one diocese carried out a mailing of
the flier for the scheme with a supportive letter. Despite a tight deadline,
eight of the 54 churches (15%) responded – a good rate for a marketing
initiative. And seven of the eight (87%) went ahead and ordered an inspection
– a good conversion rate. MoH, it should be added, did offer places of
worship a special rate of £50 per inspection. (Secular owners were paying
£150-250, and more for very large buildings.)
service offered an inspection followed by an illustrated report on maintenance
priorities. As MoH’s flier put it:
The service will put paid to worries
that a gutter has blocked up or a slate slipped down without you knowing.
It will tell you what needs doing and when, so that you can take timely
steps to keep the fabric in good repair. You will accrue the savings that
flow from preventive action. And you will know you are doing the best
for your historic building.
The scope of the inspection
was broadly limited to the external envelope. The rationale was to concentrate
on those elements that protect the building from water and damp penetration.
Thus internal items such as monuments, screens, fonts, pulpits, furniture
and so on were not covered; nor were boundary walls, paths, gates and
Items identified by
the inspectors in the reports were prioritised as shown in the table below. These works were to be entirely the responsibility of the church.
The service was independent and no professional advisers or contractors
work required and their priority
Repair broken tiles, repair defective flashings and missing mortar
at junction of parapet wall/roof
the next six months or before winter
Provide wire mesh over outlet
Repair cast iron S-bend down pipe
lead adjacent to copings and clay ridges
Renew blown render to parapet wall
Overhaul access door to tower
part of a regular maintenance programme
Check timber for decay; look for bore dust on floor Monitor condition
of softer sandstone to nave and north aisle
The pilot was founded
on the concept of systematic maintenance, a planned way of inspecting
buildings and taking timely action to keep them in good shape. Anglican
churches, of course, already follow this principle through the quinquennial
system of architects’ inspections. We saw our service as complementary:
much damage can occur in five years and inspections between quinquennials
will warn of any small but developing flaws that otherwise might develop
into serious problems by the time of the next quinquennial.
As one churchwarden
using the service told us, 'we had a quinquennial inspection recently
but felt the possibility of regular annual checks could be worthwhile.
In the event, your report told us things we were not aware of and we will
commission work as a result. We’d use such a service again a year from
now if one was available'.
However, the pilot
was a pilot and there is as yet no permanent service in the UK.
MoH would like to build
on the experience of this pilot by rolling out the scheme nationally
for places of worship, and enhancing it to include additional services
to enable communities. Churches, say, might pay a subscription entitling
them to an annual visit from an expert two-person team who would both
inspect and clear gutters and drainpipes and carry out on-the-spot first
aid repair. Churches could also have access to training, advice, and information
to empower them to take on much of the maintenance themselves with understanding
from Maintain our Heritage inspect a church as part of the maintenance
programme pilot scheme in Bath
Such a scheme would
need to be established in partnership with bodies such as the Council
for the Care of Churches, Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association,
English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Churches Preservation
Trust, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and others.
But a maintenance
inspection service for places of worship would need to be supported by
some level of subsidy – even if not-for-profit, and even if the price were
several times higher than the nominal £50 of the pilot.
Further, the widespread
development of a maintenance inspection service is likely to be successful
only as part of a comprehensive national maintenance strategy that provides
wide-ranging official support, advice and encouragement for maintenance.
MoH is producing a
report on its pilot scheme and wishes to stimulate discussion of what
is to be learned, and what initiatives should now be framed – whether
to be carried out by MoH or others. The results of this discussion will
be published in due course.
The principle of systematic
maintenance based on regular inspection is backed by English Heritage,
the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other bodies. For instance: modest
spending on regular maintenance reduces the need for costly repairs… and
saves you money in the longer term… major repair problems are often the
result of neglect and, if tackled earlier, can be prevented or reduced
is highly relevant to churches. Yet the principle is difficult to apply
in practice. Churches are often large and complex structures, and the
resources of those looking after them are often small. The majority of
congregations are dwindling, and steadily aging. Ministry, not heritage,
is their purpose, and they all too frequently lack the financial, physical
or technical ability to safeguard their buildings appropriately. And the
scale of the challenge is immense. The Church of England alone has over
16,000 churches, 13,000 of them listed. Some 40 per cent of Grade I listed
buildings (that is to say, the most valuable historic buildings in the
country) are churches.
Prince Charles, as
so often, sums up the challenge clearly: 'While regular maintenance may
not be glamorous, it is essential and of course common sense... appropriate,
regular maintenance [helps] avoid costly, wasteful and unnecessary later
If any other authority
is required, then there is Ecclesiastes 10:18: By much slothfulness the
building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth
read lack of convenient, practical and affordable routes to systematic
maintenance. We need to set these up if the house is not to drop through.
MoH was formed
in 1999 to promote the wider understanding and adoption of maintenance.
It originated from a national seminar in 1998 to promote the 25th
Anniversary of Monumentenwacht, an organisation that has 52 two-person
teams annually inspecting 15,000 buildings – a fifth of all listed
buildings in the Netherlands.
MoH conceived, set up and ran the Bath Area Pilot maintenance inspection
service. It is currently leading wide-ranging research into maintenance
issues in partnership with DTI, English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery
Fund and others.
Both the report on the Bath Area Pilot and the findings of the research
will be published in due course on: www.maintainourheritage.co.uk.
Comments and suggestions are welcome. They may be made via
the website or by e-mail: email@example.com.
article is reproduced from Historic Churches, 2003
TIMOTHY CANTELL has been Project Coordinator
of Maintain our Heritage since 2000. He is a founder of SAVE Britain’s Heritage and has worked for the Civic Trust and the Royal Society of Arts.
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