Faith in Maintainance

Sara Crofts


Faith in Maintainance

MSc IHBC / 37 Spital Square, London E1 6DY

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)
London, United Kingdom
European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2010 - Education, Training and Awareness-Raising

Stave off decay by daily care


Places of worship are integral to the landscape of the United Kingdom, representing centuries of faith, craftsmanship and design.  Many of our most precious faith-related buildings are in desperate need of repair and rely on the hard work of the local volunteers who own and care for these incredibly important buildings.  There are over 16,000 parish churches under the umbrella of the Church of England alone, many of which are mediaeval in origin.  There are also significant numbers of places of worship belonging to other faiths including historic chapels, temples, synagogues, meeting houses and mosques.  In addition, some faith groups make use of redundant churches and chapels, or other historic buildings which have been adapted for worship.

It is fitting that the SPAB created the innovative Faith in Maintenance training project as our organisation has been committed to William Morris's exhortation to "stave off decay by daily care" since he wrote those words in our founding manifesto in 1877.  The SPAB has been campaigning for the sensitive and timely conservation of places of worship since its inception and has both the knowledge and experience to provide practical and positive help to those who care for these fantastic buildings.

Project Objectives

•    To provide 150 training courses over the five years of the project with a target audience of 5,000 volunteers.  Places on the training courses are freely available to any volunteer who has a responsibility for the care of an historic place of worship.
•    To develop a series of workshops for young people on the theme of caring for historic places of worship.
•    To provide a dedicated telephone helpline.  Our Technical Officer is available to provide advice, support and guidance via the helpline every Friday from 9.30am until 3.30pm.
•    To produce a maintenance handbook (The Good Maintenance Guide) and a maintenance calendar.  These are given freely to all those attending a training course and can also be purchased from the SPAB's online bookshop.
•    To create and maintain a project website containing a wealth of guidance on maintenance issues, practical advice, links to sources of further information and case studies etc.
•    To produce a free monthly email bulletin containing advice on issues related to the care of historic places of worship. We currently have 550 subscribers.
•    To produce a DVD on the subject of maintaining historic places of worship.  This sixty minute film provides practical advice on the day-to-day care of places of worship and highlights some common maintenance problems and how to deal with them. So far 25,000 copies have been distributed to volunteers from a variety of faith communities.
•    To promote the benefits of preventative maintenance through advocacy work and general awareness-raising (published articles, radio interviews, lectures, attendance at conferences and other events etc.).

Training Courses

The Faith in Maintenance training course is delivered by Sara Crofts, an architect who specialises in the conservation of historic buildings.  The courses run from 10am until 4pm and include a practical exercise during which the delegates are asked to carry out a maintenance inspection of a local place of worship.  The training course is designed to enhance the volunteer's understanding of:
•    The importance of their place of worship and the decay processes that affect it.
•    The difference between traditional and modern building materials and techniques.
•    The importance of using the appropriate materials for the maintenance and repair of historic places of worship.
•    How to plan, implement and monitor regular maintenance activities.
•    The legislative background affecting places of worship.
•    The role of professional advisers and other specialists.

At the end of the day our delegates are able to demonstrate:
•    An enhanced sensitivity towards the fabric of historic buildings.
•    An appreciation of the practical benefits of maintaining and repairing old buildings.
•    An ability to analyse and interpret basic decay problems.
•    An appreciation of when to seek expert advice and where to look for it.
•    An enhanced ability to communicate effectively with professional advisers and other specialists.
•    An enhanced ability to interpret and implement specialist reports.

Here are a few of the comments made by delegates who have attended our training courses:
•    "Thanks to you, I am now better informed to do my job as a churchwarden and our church building hopefully will benefit."
•    "Just to let you know that the Faith in Maintenance course was extremely helpful and comprehensive.  Lots of ideas and tips, all of which I shall be using in my future maintenance programming."
•    "I thought it was first class and a real eye opener; churches would save a lot of money if more people attended this."
•    "Two of us went on the course and have implemented a programme of care at our church.  We organise a working party three or four times a year and find regular inspections of the building and grounds inform our working parties most productively."
•    "I found the day very informative and will use the knowledge gained to look at our buildings with new eyes. I hope to put into practice some of these ideas."


The project is run by SPAB staff and is guided by the project steering group.  We have received support, advice and assistance from a number of heritage bodies in the UK including English Heritage, the National Churches Trust, the Churches Conservation Trust, the Church of England, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church, Jewish Heritage UK and the Ecclesiastical Architects Surveyors Association.

Costs and Funding

The total cost of the project was around pound;800,000.  The main funding bodies were the Heritage Lottery Fund (71%) and English Heritage (16%) but we also received substantial contributions from the Dulverton Trust and the Pilgrim Trust as well as some smaller donations from other charitable trusts in the UK.  The SPAB made an ls"in-kind' contribution to the project in terms of staff and volunteer time.

Impact on Conservation Policy and Practice in the UK

The Faith in Maintenance project is supported by English Heritage, the UK Government's statutory adviser on the historic environment, as part of its Inspired! campaign ( and also featured in its recent Caring for Places of Worship campaign ( 

The Heritage Lottery Fund is also placing an increasing importance on the long-term maintenance of the many conservation projects it funds.  As such, its new grant application pack contains links to the maintenance advice and guidance on the Faith in Maintenance project website.  The Faith in Maintenance project is on record as being highly valued by the Heritage Lottery Fund because of the way it brings historic buildings and volunteer skills training together.

The National Churches Trust has embedded our advice on maintenance into its revised grant scheme for fabric repairs to places of worship.  Applicants are given a copy of the Faith in Maintenance DVD and are encouraged to attend a training course and to make use of the advice available on the project website.


It has been a real pleasure to lead this highly successful project.  We have been able to work with a variety of faith groups to raise awareness of the need for preventative maintenance and have provided volunteers with the skills and knowledge to look after their historic places of worship more effectively.  The project has benefitted from huge support from various heritage organisations in the UK and the most obvious measure of our achievement is the fact that we are being encouraged to develop the project further so that we can submit a grant application for a follow-up project later this year.

When we started the project we had one simple aim - to help volunteers look after their historic places of worship better.  Through providing simple, practical and timely advice in an engaging and informative matter we believe that we have achieved this.  We have brought the highest level of professionalism and commitment to this project and were delighted when our efforts were rewarded with a European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award in 2010.



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