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Keeping the faith
THEY have kept the faith for centuries. But, along the way, Cheshire’s churches have needed a helping hand to ensure they are preserved for future generations.
Unknown by many, the Historic Cheshire Churches Preservation Trust (HCCPT) has been coming to the rescue of some of the county’s most beloved landmarks for more than 50 years.
Honorary secretary and treasurer Graham Clarke said: “Churches and chapels play an important function in the county but most have difficulty raising funds for major repair works.”
With advancing years comes a greater need for care and attention and many churches face spiralling costs just to survive the passage of time.
Typically, money goes towards fixing towers, bell cotes, lych gates, roofs, stained glass windows, organs, memorials and crosses as well as improvements to things like lighting and heating.
Graham said: “Anything that keeps the cost and energy down in this day and age is very important.”
"Churches are part of our heritage and the very fabric of Cheshire.”Historic Cheshire Churches Preservation Trust honorary secretary and treasurer Graham Clarke
Originally created in 1953 by the then Bishops of Chester and Stockport and revived in 1992, the Trust works tirelessly to provide funds for maintenance and modernisation.
However, it has recently been concentrating on improving church access for elderly and disabled people as part of its number one goal to make the buildings more attractive to a wider audience.
Additional catering and toilet facilities have also found their way into many churches.
“They are wonderful buildings and we don’t use them as much as we should,” said Graham.
“The Disability Discrimination Act has forced churches to improve access both into and within churches so the wider community can use them.
“We need to get the churches into the 21st century and promote them to the local people of Cheshire – a place they can develop other interests.
“They are big buildings and the more we use them the better for the general public as a whole.”
The Trust is able to provide much of its grants to worthy causes thanks to its partnership with Waste Recycling Environmental Limited (WREN).
Churches can benefit from grants of up to £10,000 with the condition being that they are within 10 miles of one of WREN’s landfill sites.
Grants for churches outside the catchment area are raised via donations, legacies and fundraising events.
The biggest event is the annual ‘Ride and Stride’ day in September in which groups of people or individuals all over Cheshire ride, walk or run around as many churches in the Diocese as possible.
The Trust then meets every three months to determine which applicants will receive grants for that quarter.
Now the Trust is hoping to raise its profile so that more churches can take advantage of what is on offer.
“We want to get more publicity into churches so they are aware of our activities and how they can use us to come to the rescue.
“A recent example is when the Trustees met at St Margaret's Church in Wrenbury.
“A parishioner mentioned that they had problems finding funding for repairs, but hadn't realised that HCCPT could probably help.
“People don’t seem to realise what we can offer or how useful the grants can be,” added Graham.
“It is like looking after a house – you have got to have a proper schedule of maintenance. A lot of churches think that it is not necessary, particularly the younger churches.
“They are perhaps 50-years-old and do not have the same history attached but without maintenance they can still find the structure starts deteriorating.
“Church funds are available from a variety of sources so some churches just need us to fall back on to provide the gap in funding. We are all doing our bit.”
The Historic Cheshire Churches Preservation Trust has recently raised its game by making an appearance at the Cheshire Show at Tabley showground, near Knutsford.
It also hosted the annual conference of all the county trusts at Chester Cathedral earlier this year to discuss all the matters currently affecting churches.
Since its rebirth in 1992, the Trust has given assistance to more than 230 churches in the area and more than £1million has been giving in grants.
Graham said: “It’s marvellous what’s been achieved and that problems can be solved by our Trust, partners, friends and all those who've helped. We’re now building on that success.
“Churches are wonderful buildings that are not being fully utilised and that’s the last thing we want.
“They are an important social structure in each village and urban environment. They are part of our heritage and the very fabric of Cheshire.”