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Experts share wisdom on cherishing historic buildings

The first Historic Churches Conference in the Diocese took place at St John’s Cathedral, organised by Eloise Limmer.

The event took place on Friday June 24, and included a packed agenda of talks, all relating to how we appreciate and manage the beautiful listed churches within the Diocese.

Eloise, who is the Historic Churches Support Officer, kicked the day off with images of all the listed churches within the Diocese, showing the amazing variety of architectural styles and periods covered within our relatively small area. This was followed by David Eve from Historic England (who co-fund the Historic Churches Support Officer position) discussing the ‘Taking Stock’ project. As part of this project Historic England are reviewing the list descriptions for most of the listed churches in the Diocese to make sure that their history and quality is properly understood and shared. You can look up information about any of the churches within the Diocese here:

The discussions then moved on to the role of the Historic Churches Committee (HCC). The Chair of the HCC, Moira Goldstaub, described the legislative background of the Committee with an explanation of the Ecclesiastical Exemption. This explored the benefits of being able to have a specialist, expert Committee that includes clergy and lay people, all of which with an understanding of the Catholic Church, determine applications for change to our churches rather than having to go through the secular listed building consent procedure. With Moira having set out the background, Cedric Burton, Secretary of the HCC, went on to describe the process of applying for a ‘Faculty’ and how the HCC determines these applications. The clear message was that the HCC are ‘Here to Help’ and the expert members are happy to discuss plans even at very early stages.

The guest speaker at the Conference was Sophie Andreae, Vice Chair of the Patrimony Committee of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. It was great to welcome Sophie to the Diocese as she, along with the Patrimony Committee team, have been a great help to the Diocese in managing the process of securing funding through the Covid Recovery Capital Works fund. Churches in Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, Lynford and the Cathedral received money for urgent works from this funding which wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and support of Sophie and her team. Sophie’s presentation was one of the highlights of the day with a run through of the history of Catholic Architecture with amazing photographs of churches across the country. She then discussed the national funding picture for historic places of worship which was informative but sobering.

After much-needed refuelling at lunch the day moved on to more practical topics. Suzi Pendlebury, Cathedral Architect, stressed the importance of maintenance and how a stitch in time can save buildings from major issues down the line. The key message here was the importance of parishes taking ownership of looking after their buildings and the maintenance cycle where annual maintenance reports should be undertaken by the parish in between the five yearly Quinquennial Report. This will allow the parish to notice any damage or malfunction early and hopefully deal with it before it becomes a much more complex and costly problem. Suzi’s presentation was followed by a tour of the Cathedral to highlight how you don’t need to be an expert to spot issues and to show the damage that can be done by water if not managed properly.

Sandra Portas, Diocesan Stewardship and Fundraising Officer, was up next with tips for any parishes considering applying for external funding for their projects. This talk really highlighted how important it is for parishes to record all of the amazing things that they do to support parishioners and the wider community. Keeping a record of mass attendance, regular and special events, and any work you do with the wider community – particularly photographs and feedback from attendees – will stand you in good stead if you ever need to apply for funding for a project.

Last but not least were Tony Walmsley (from OLSOS, Lowestoft) and Brian Lafferty (from St Marys, Great Yarmouth). Describing their experiences of organising major projects within their parishes and accessing external funds to support them. Tony described the Lottery Funded project where they received around £250,000 to repair the tower at Our Lady Star of the Sea. Echoing Tony’s talk Brian also stressed the amount of time and energy input needed to complete a large scale project – instructing attendees to ‘not take no for an answer’.

Pictured above are participants in the Historic Churches conference at St John’s Cathedral.