Conservation of churches and their contents - sources of advice and information

The preservation and conservation of church buildings and their historic contents can involve many people including volunteers, church wardens, regulatory or advisory bodies and grant-giving organisations.

Monuments, wall paintings, stained glass, textiles, metalwork and church furniture are a few examples of the many types of objects and materials that need ongoing care. This page provides information on some of the sources of advice and guidance available to those thinking about commissioning conservation work on church property.

It is important to contact the appropriate regulatory body before embarking on a conservation project as there may be specific procedures to follow; in particular the major Christian denominations in England are exempt from Listed Building and Conservation Area controls in relation to works affecting listed church buildings under the Ecclesiastical Exemption. Each of the six denominations benefiting from ecclesiastical exemption has its own system of control over its listed buildings. A summary of the guidance available from each is given under the headings below.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain
The Catholic Church in England and Wales
The Church in Wales
The Church of England (and Council for the Care of Churches)
The Methodist Church
The United Reformed Church

The Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Baptist Union of Wales

The website www.baptist.org.uk provides various guideline leaflets for Baptist Churches on the Ecclesiastical Exemption Scheme that is operated by both the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Baptist Union of Wales in agreement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. From the home page, use the Quick Finder link on the drop down box and select 'Download BUC Guidelines'. There is a section heading Listed Buildings on this page which allows access to the leaflets and also a print option for the churches that need to use them. This section of the site includes the application form that a church needs to complete which also gives information about what is needed by the committee to consider their application www.baptist.org.uk/legal-property-a-charities/buc-guidelines.html?start=60 .

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The Catholic Church in England and Wales

The website of the Catholic Church in England and Wales provides valuable information and guidance on the care and conservation of churches and their contents. This information is available at www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/index.shtml. Within this page, the link 'Historic Churches' provides information on the Historic Churches Committees, (including contact details) and the 'Directory on the Ecclesiastical Exemption' which includes guidance on when there is a need for a Faculty. Applications for a Faculty should be made to the Secretary of your diocese's Historic Churches Committee who will also be able to provide additional advice.

More general guidance is provided under the link 'Care of churches and their contents'. In this section is provided a 'Reference List of Sources of Information' under headings which include topics such as the building itself, contents, pests, storage and display, theft and vandalism, and grants and funding. There is also a 'Notes and Guidance' section which includes a number of documents aimed at those responsible for the care of churches, and in particular listed buildings.

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The Church in Wales

The Church in Wales produces a Parochial Administration Handbook, section 3 of which provides guidance on parochial property and includes a guide to the Faculty rules. If works are proposed by a parish to a consecrated church or in a churchyard, a Faculty must be obtained from the relevant Diocese. PCCs are likely to hold a copy of the handbook, and it is also available on the website of the Church in Wales at http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/resources/property/docs/P20.pdf . This weblink provides initial information including sections on the purpose of the rules, when a Faculty is needed and the procedure for applying for a Faculty. For further information on conservation of church buildings and their contents in Wales, please contact: The Property Department, The Representative Body of the Church in Wales, 39 Cathedral Road, Cardiff, CF11 9XF.

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The Church of England (and Council for the Care of Churches)

The Church of England has its own regulatory system for works to buildings and their historic contents. The Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, which supports the Church Buildings Council and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission (www.churchcare.co.uk), is the key national contact for enquiries. You can find more information on their conservation work here: http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/our-buildings/churches/conservation.aspx

There are two main sources of advice for those planning work to churches, their contents and churchyards. Your first point of contact for advice should be your Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC). This is a body with a wide range of expertise in church buildings and can usually talk through proposals and offer advice. For advice on the conservation of works of art in churches, historic furnishings and churchyard structures you should also consult the Church Buildings Council (a statutory body supported by the staff at the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division). Information on the Church Buildings Council, its role and conservation grants can be found here http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/our-buildings/churches.aspx.

Works to cathedrals are regulated by their Fabric Advisory Committees (FACs) and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (also supported by staff at the Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division). You can find more information on the regulation of works in cathedrals here: http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/our-buildings/cathedrals.aspx.

A key conservation resource provided by the Cathedral and Church Buildings Division is the Guidelines for the Preparation of Conservation Reports. Conservation reports are essential to support requests for advice, grant applications and faculty applications (a faculty is the legal document that authorises works to church buildings. More information on the Faculty Jurisdiction System can be found here: http://www.churchcare.co.uk/legal.php?GA. These guidelines set the standard for best practice in church conservation projects and have been prepared in collaboration with the wider conservation sector. You can find more information here: http://www.churchcare.co.uk/contents.php?DS

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The Methodist Church

All matters relating to chapels which are listed buildings or within conservation areas are dealt with by the Methodist Property Office which is part of the Resourcing Mission Office. The Methodist Church website provides access to a series of helpful leaflets under the heading 'Conservation information leaflets and publications' available at www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=information.content&cmid=186 . Amongst these is a document entitled 'Submission of schemes to the Connexional Property Committee' which outlines when proposed works of alteration need approval from the Connexional Property Committee of the Methodist Church (ecclesiastical exemption) and how to apply for such approval. The document is supported by further guidance on the preparation of Statements of Significance and Need. The website also advises early consultation with the Connexional Property Committee's Conservation Officer who may be contacted at tech_cons@property.methodist.org.uk .

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The United Reformed Church

The United Reformed Church provides clear guidance on the issue of Ecclesiastical Exemption at www.urc.org.uk/what_we_do/plato/listed_buildings_and_ecclesiastical_exemption_s661 , explaining that 'The URC is one of the denominations which enjoys Ecclesiastical Exemption, which means that we have an approved system to allow the church to deal with matters which would otherwise require Listed Building Consent from the local authority". The guidance is given under headings such as 'Does this apply to you?' and 'Procedure'. In addition, each Synod has a Listed Building Advisory Committee (LBAC) and you are advised to contact your Synod's LBAC as early as possible to discuss your proposals with them. The main URC website gives the contact details for your Synod at www.urc.org.uk/about/contact_us/synods/synods.

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© Icon, the Institute of Conservation 2011.

This article offers general guidance and is not intended to be a substitute for the professional advice of an accredited conservator. The views expressed are those of the author or authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Conservation. The Institute of Conservation and its partners accept no liability for any loss or damage which may arise if this guidance is followed.