Upkeep of historic churches could fall victim to coronavirus fallout

“Difficult decisions” could have to be made as historic churches struggling with the financial impact of the coronavirus shut-down struggle to meet maintenance and repair costs.

The Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon. PIcture: Simon Hulme

The Rt Rev Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Ripon, told the Yorkshire Post the pandemic had left “some quite serious financial challenges” and those burdened by constant maintenance bills could be forced to make difficult decisions.

Her thoughts have been echoed by Yorkshire Historic Churches Trust, which last year gave out just short of £100,000 to historic churches in the region, for repairs to roofs, spires and stonework and organ restoration.

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Many historic churches are reliant on tourism and constant fundraising to meet ongoing maintenance - both of which have dried up, and new funding streams should be considered, the Trust said.

Chairman Tom Ramsden said it was committed to helping places of worship with the ”repair, restoration and maintenance” of their buildings.

“Although most churches and chapels are currently closed, keeping on top of the basic maintenance is essential to preserve the fabric of these precious buildings,” he said. “With summer fayres, coffee mornings and community classes cancelled, new ways of fundraising need to be considered.”

“Over the centuries, churches have defined landscapes, brought together communities and demonstrated beautiful craftsmanship. More so than ever now, these magnificent buildings need preservation and maintenance.”

The Rt Rev Hartley, whose area includes 143 parishes, said the Church of England was committed to being present in every community.

“It’s a balance - how can we remain faithful to that vocation but at the same time be realistic about historic buildings which are challenging to look after,” she said. “In many communities clergy can feel quite burdened by constantly having to fundraise to keep the roof on, for example, but we are going to have to face these challenges and I am sure there will be difficult decisions to come.”