Making the Most of Quinquennials
||Heavy rain is good for a fabric inspection: Toby Falconer at work at Cold Aston, Gloucestershire
The Church of England’s Inspection
of Churches Measure 1955, which first set
out the requirement for the quinquennial
inspection (QI) of churches, has now been in
force for over half a century. Its origins had a lot
to do with the early grant-making bodies, such
as the Pilgrim Trust, which were struggling to
cope with urgent requests for funds as parishes
tried to address fabric deterioration caused
by the long years of wartime and post-war
shortages of materials and labour. There was
a feeling that fabric crises were popping up
out of a bottomless pit and what was needed
was advance warning and prioritisation.
At first, the new requirement that each
consecrated church must be inspected every five
years by an approved architect was greeted by
parishes as yet another burden, administrative
as well as financial, but it has come to be
seen by many, both outside and inside the
Church of England, as a vital discipline which
has paid great dividends over the years.
The purpose of this article is to examine
how parishes can make the most of the
inspection process and its follow up. The
QI, after all, is something that every parish
has to do, and to pay for. It makes sense
therefore to get the best out of the system
and from the services of the ‘QI consultant’.
(Although the term ‘church architect’ is still
commonly used, for many years chartered
surveyors with conservation skills have been
eligible for inclusion on the list of approved
practitioners. To avoid tedious repetition
of ‘church architect or surveyor’, the term
QI consultant is used here instead.)
It is often said by those who work in
Church of England dioceses that there are 43
ways of doing everything. The Inspection of
Churches Measure laid down a general principle,
but it is up to each of the 43 dioceses to make
its own scheme under the Measure setting
out precisely what is expected. Similarly, each
diocese has its own method of appointing
of QI consultants, the setting of fees and the
instruction process for the inspection itself.
For instance, in the Gloucester diocese, once
someone is appointed to the approved list,
he or she may be used by any parish to do its
inspections without further reference to the
diocese, although in practice the DAC secretary
is often consulted when changes are made.
By contrast, there are some dioceses
where the individual appointment needs to be approved and/or where there are sub-groups
within the approved list such that only certain
practitioners are approved to deal with say
Grade I buildings. Regarding the inspection
fees, a wide range of methods exists. Probably
the most common scheme is to categorise
churches as ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘large’ (not an
easy process in itself) and to have standard
fees relating to these groups. Some dioceses
have no recommended fees at all and leave it
to the parish to negotiate with the architect.
One could argue that greater
standardisation would be helpful, especially
to the hard-pressed practitioners, most of
whom have complained for many years that
church inspection work is not remunerative and that the system needs to be reviewed.
But for now let us concentrate on the broad
issues of the inspection process, and how it
can best be used to benefit the parishes.
APPOINTING A QI CONSULTANT
Every DAC secretary will be familiar with
the plaintive phone call from a parish officer
asking how one sets about appointing a
new QI consultant. In the next few seconds
one tries to remember who their current
one is, who the personalities in the parish
are and what might have gone wrong
with the professional relationship.
To help the appointment process some
DACs provide guidance notes for parishioners.
Gloucester DAC’s guidance, for example,
is aimed at helping to manage expectations
and to prompt the people responsible for the
selection to ask appropriate questions. It will
usually pay dividends for parishes if they take
the appointment process quite seriously. Often
the best thing is for two or three members of
the PCC to meet a small shortlist of possible
candidates. It may be helpful to telephone other
parishes for which each candidate has worked.
It is probably better for the selectors
to meet the candidates in their offices than
at the church: you can learn a lot from the
style of the practice and the resources at
its disposal. How will your church work
fit in with the sort of projects which the
practice normally undertakes? You can
take some photographs and a plan of the
church so as to have something to discuss.
It’s very important at that meeting to ask
about fee structures. The QI fees are usually laid
down in advance, but the PCC needs to be quite
clear about fees for subsequent repair work and,
even more importantly, for general advice.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE QI CONSULTANT
One of the great missed opportunities in the
care of churches field is that PCCs tend to use
their QI consultant every five years for the
quinquennial (when they have to), and as little
as possible in between. It has been suggested
many times that ideally the relationship ought
to be rather like that with the family doctor – in
other words somebody to consult whenever
one is in doubt about anything. Although well
meant, this analogy is rather naive, because
by and large we do not have to pay to go and
see our doctor. Many PCCs are frightened
even to speak to their QI consultant, in case
the imaginary taximeter starts to whirl.
|Photograph taken from a cherry picker at St Peter’s, Cheltenham: this kind of access can give an invaluable
close-up view of roof defects
You therefore need to ask a prospective
candidate: ‘What is your attitude to charging
for casual advice?’ The fact is that most church
QI consultants are very happy to be consulted
informally and will not charge unless and
until they need to make a special journey to
the church or to produce written work such
as an instruction for the builder. The wise
churchwarden or fabric officer will therefore not
hesitate to make a call, which may well set his
mind at rest or may result in an offer such as:
‘I will be passing the church next Wednesday.
Shall we meet there and have a quick look at it?’
At this stage there will normally be no fee, but
for the health of the professional relationship,
the PCC does need to be very clear what
constitutes fee paying work and how much
the bill will be when that stage is reached.
Sadly, many of the difficulties which crop
up between PCCs and their QI consultants
are due to a failure on both sides to look each
other in the eye and discuss what professional
services will cost. PCCs for their part need to
understand that a professional practice cannot
run on thin air and that time-consuming work
needs to be paid for. The QI consultant also
needs to acknowledge that formal professional
work such as preparation of a specification
will be inordinately expensive if the work in
question is very minor. More of that later.
PREPARING FOR THE QI
Let us now assume that the date for the
next quinquennial survey has been set.
How should the PCC prepare, so that
the best use is made of the time?
Many QI consultants will set out in
a standard letter quite clearly what they
need, which essentially boils down to safe
access to as many parts of the building as
possible. The QI consultant cannot report on
conditions if there is a locked door preventing
access. Make sure therefore that every key is
available, including boiler room and tower.
The next stage is to think about high-level
access, other than the tower top, which is
usually straightforward. One of the questions
to ask at the selection interview is whether
the QI consultant is content to use ladders
– always provided that these are safely fixed.
The answer should be an unequivocal and
cheerful ‘yes’. Depending on the physical
characteristics of your church, it may suffice
to bring in a competent local builder with
good ladders. In some cases, the parish may
have suitable ladders available, but make sure
that the QI consultant is going to be happy
using them and that sufficient able-bodied
people are available to get the ladders into a
safe position and to hold the bottom safely.
For some churches, the only way to get
up to high level parts is with a cherry picker.
This will add considerably to the cost of the
exercise, but it may be money well spent.
What is the point of paying £500 for the
quinquennial if the findings are prejudiced
by the inability to get a close up view? It may
cost an additional £300 to bring in a cherry
picker, but this could dramatically enhance
the value obtained from the report.
Furthermore, the cherry picker can be
used in other ways, for example to clear gutters
or to change light bulbs, as part of the same
operation. Loose pieces of masonry can be
brought down for safety using the cherry picker.
But if you are planning to do this, make sure
that the QI consultant is aware that he or she is
expected to go aloft. If you are hiring a cherry picker, you will need to be very precise about
timings, so that the QI consultant can make the
best use of the equipment without unnecessary
delay. Ensure that plenty of photographs
are taken while you have the opportunity
to get close to high level stonework, etc.
THE LOG BOOK
||Toby Falconer examines the wall plate
The QI consultant will want to see the parish’s
log book, so this will be a good opportunity for
the wardens to check that it is up to date. Not
all parishes are equally conscientious in the
way they maintain this important document.
At its best, it can be a dossier of detailed
information, supplemented with photographs,
copies of repair paperwork from contractors,
and so on. It is more important that it is
comprehensively maintained than that it follows
any particular laid down format. It is of no use
whatsoever, of course, if it has been mislaid.
It is helpful if the report states clearly
whether the log book was produced,
and if it was, it should form the basis of
the customary list of works carried out
since the last inspection. This list should
indicate which (if any) of these works
were supervised by the QI consultant.
Apart from the log book, it may be helpful
to have the inventory available, together with
details of any regular servicing arrangements
such as boilers, fire extinguishers, etc. These
all have implications for the wellbeing of the
building, and the QI consultant should take
note of them. The QI consultant should also
be made aware of any standing arrangements
with local builders, for example for gutter-clearing
or attention to minor repairs.
In the Gloucester diocese, a new
service known as ‘GutterClear’ is intended
to help the QI consultant’s work by making
available reports and photographs taken as
part of the maintenance exercise, and it is
hoped that similar schemes will gradually
start in other parts of the country.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
If you have a ring of bells in your tower,
ensure that the bells are down on the day
of the inspection, and check with the tower
captain whether there are any issues which
need to be drawn to the QI consultant’s
attention. After the inspection is finished,
make sure that all doors are locked and that
ladders have been stowed away properly.
Many QI consultants offer to come to a
PCC meeting to discuss the findings of their
report, this often being included as part of
the service. This is well worth taking up. It
enables people to ask questions and to meet
their consultant, who is otherwise only seen
by the churchwarden or fabric officer.
The format and content of the report is
another area where standardisation has been
suggested over the years, but there is little sign
of it to date. Many QI consultants are now
including a ground plan and/or roof plan of
the church, which can be very helpful, and
annotated photographs also bring the report to
life and should be regarded as essential. For the
DAC secretary or archdeacon, a covering letter
drawing attention to any outstanding issues
can be very helpful, as there is not always the
time to go through detailed paragraphs in quite
the way that the recipient parish is likely to.
The QI consultant is expected to
prioritise works. Typical categories
are ‘urgent/immediate’, ‘within 12 (or
18 months)’, or ‘within five years or more’.
|Another view from the cherry picker, closing in on an inaccessible central tower at St Peter’s, Cheltenham
Some QI consultants attempt to put
budget prices against their recommendations
for dealing with defects. This too can be
extremely helpful to parishes, but one can
understand why some consultants are very
cautious about doing it. Without a detailed
exercise by a quantity surveyor (which is an
expensive proposition) one cannot be very
certain about the reliability of the figures
quoted. But from the parish’s point of view, a
strictly broad brush indication is a tremendous
help. Are we talking about £1,000 or £10,000?
Some people regard the traditional style
of a QI report as rather ponderous, which is
understandable. We need to see the wood
for the trees: some reports have a bad habit
of expending the same number of words
on a minor matter such as a bit of scattered
woodworm or a loose door handle as they do on
the state of a major roof slope. The PCC needs
to focus on the big issues which ultimately could
prove life threatening to their building, such as
the roof, the stonework, the drainage and so on.
To be fair to the QI consultant, it is
notoriously hard to say when, for example,
a given roof slope will come to the end of its
life – whether it can stagger on for another
five, 15 or 25 years. The wise PCC will want to
get the most accurate information possible on
the things that really matter, although this may
mean a more detailed exercise, perhaps with
a competent builder helping the consultant by
carrying out some investigative work, which
would otherwise be outside the scope of the QI.
LIMITATIONS OF THE QI
Too many PCCs make the classic mistake
of going to a builder with an extract from
the QI report and a request for a quotation.
The difficulty is that the QI report merely
sets out the defects and a general approach
to their remedy, and that is not the same as
a specification for the necessary remedial
works. It does not attempt to set out
the detail of methods and materials, nor
does it cover the essential preliminaries
which need to be agreed before work
starts, for the protection of the PCC.
Where major works are involved, such
as the relaying of a roof slope, there will
be no alternative but to obtain a formal
specification, which is a major document.
It is only fair that this work should be offered
to the QI consultant, who in any case will
usually be best placed to undertake it.
Minor works arising from the QI are more
difficult, because as has been noted above,
the cost of formal paperwork may be out of
proportion to the cost of the works. There are
various compromise ways forward. For example,
the QI consultant might meet on site with the
PCC’s usual builder, and a clear understanding
can then be reached on a range of minor works.
FIT FOR PURPOSE?
The QI system has long since proved its
worth as an essential part of the proper care
of a church building. On the other hand far
too many parishes fail to take the simple
steps needed for proper preparation and
follow up. Without these, the QI’s potential
cannot be realised and its cost will be at
least partially wasted. Following the advice
above should help ensure that the parish
and its consultant will together make the
most of the opportunities presented.