The dreaded fabric appeal … a churchwarden’s story

Running a church appeal – A ground view from St Michael’s, Stanley Pontlarge

Driving a church fabric appeal is not everyone’s idea of fun.  There is a lot to learn, and setbacks for the unwary.

Simon Andrews, Churchwarden at Winchcombe, describes his experience raising funds for the little church at Stanley Pontlarge.

I have come to dread Quinquennial Inspection time.  Despite having a pretty thorough maintenance oversight plan for the four churches in the Parish of Winchcombe, the QI may well identify some really expensive jobs …. and then comes the business of how to find the money, and from whom.

St. Michael’s at Stanley Pontlarge has been carefully maintained over the centuries and has a wonderful setting and atmosphere.  With historic links to nearby Sudeley Castle, and to the ancient Cistercian abbey at Hailes, it is by far the oldest of our churches.

Our identified problems were threefold: excess ground water and a crumbling underground drainage system in the churchyard causing damp; a roof whose expensive Cotswold tiles were laminating; and a pew platform supporting medieval age pews that was suffering from rot.

So, to Lesson No 1.

Before you are able to start applying for grants, you will have to expect that someone – the PCC? – is going to have to put down an initial outlay of funds for architects’ work to prepare specifications and schedules of work, and archaeologists, when needed, to produce the necessary documents required by the Diocesan Advisory Committee in order to get their permissions (Faculty, or Lists A/B) to actually do the works in the first place.

The rub is that most grants authorities stipulate that they will not retrospectively pay for these things so these costs are basically sunk and unrecoverable.

And then to the business of grant applications.

Actually, once you have pulled together the necessary base documents – and there are plenty to prepare – it can be actually pretty easy to adapt the first effort to subsequent bids.

Therefore, Lesson 2; I’m not saying it becomes a simple production line of bids just pumping out the same thing to grant authorities – you still need to style the bid appropriate to the grant authorities’ needs and direction – but it is certainly easier if you have been thorough in your initial preparation of paperwork.

And the final Lesson; be prepared for the unexpected.

This is not only identifying a contingency element when preparing your costings, but allowing for things to go wrong.  In our case, we have had two examples where works could not be initiated before the funding timeline ran out.  The first was a national fund related to Covid that would not be extended owing to constraints placed on that fund by Government.  The second was related to our GHCT bid.

GHCT now allow only a 12 month window to use their grant.   This helps to ensure that the projects they support are not left to drift.  In our case, I notified the selected roofing contractor and our architect in December 2021 that we had finally achieved the necessary wider grant funding, and re-engaged in January 2022 to start fixing work dates for the roofing work.

However, the contractor then informed me that the source quarry for the specified Cotswold tiles was in the process of being leased to another company and so, whilst expected to be completed very soon, access to the tiles could yet be confirmed.  In this case, I declared the potential problem to GHCT and they kindly, and with enormous relief from me, accepted the situation, noting that the project was clearly being pushed forward.

So, good luck with your projects.  Initially, there is quite a bit to do, but early preparation pays huge dividends in the long run.