How to look after, develop and utilise them
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8. Opening up your Place of Worship
In this section…
8.1 Making your building accessible
8.3 Health and Safety
8.3.1 First it is about keeping your own people safe
8.3.2 Secondly, it is about ensuring your visitors are kept safe
8.4 Welcoming Visitors
8.4.1 Promoting your church
8.4.2 What are your visitors going to find?
There’s no more effective way of engaging with those outside your regular congregation than throwing open the doors of your church and keeping them open.
It is also about making your building more welcoming to everyone who visits your church whether they are worshippers, pilgrims or tourists or simply passers-by seeking a quiet space.
Sometimes it will be about helping them to feel able to cross the threshold. People who don’t go to worship will often find it difficult to open a closed church door and walk inside. You need to find a way of breaking down those barriers.
There are a variety of things you can do starting with a welcoming notice clearly displayed near the gate or door to make people feel they are welcome. People won’t come in if they don’t know the building is open.
At the other extreme, you could also consider installing a glass door within the porch and narthex so that the outer door can be left open and people can see inside without losing heat. The welcome should continue once visitors are inside and there needs to be information about the church easily available such as a guidebook. Displays explaining the history of the building and describing the current life of the living church are also important in helping visitors to fully appreciate what they are looking at. You may also want to find ways of explaining the Christian Faith to visitors and the function of some of the features such as the pulpit and the altar.
For local people, places of worship are some of the key keepers of community heritage. Churchyards, in particular, are a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the area. In addition, they are also keepers of traditions and rites that may have been practiced for generations.
Make the most of opening by thinking strategically
Start by raising the matter with the PCC and congregation and developing a vision for your hospitality. From there you can work out a strategy and put together a plan of action.
You might have felt discouraged from opening your church because you think that the only way of doing it is to be open seven days week from dawn to dusk. Don’t be – there are lots of ways of doing it. If you’re just getting started, the most important thing is to think about what’s easiest for you and your parish to handle and what is going to be most effective
For more on the welcoming of visitors see Tourism, below. For more on the provision of interpretation material for a range of visitors see Education, below.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
The Churches Visitor and Tourism Association is the leading resource body for individuals, churches, and broader bodies and encourages churches in welcoming visitors. A large proportion of available resources, toolkits and materials are freely available from their website. There is also information on current church festivals and trails happening around the country. cvta.org.uk
Open Welcome is a resource from the Arthur Rank Centre, is designed to help rural churches consider how they might use their building to offer welcome and hospitality to those in their community, both residents and visitors. arthurrankcentre.org.uk/mission/open-welcome
The Diocese of London has produced an Open Churches Toolkit. While obviously aimed at urban and city churches, there is a lot of very useful information on all aspects of opening up your church. london.anglican.org/support/buildings-and-property/open-churches-toolkit
ChurchCare has overall guidance on welcoming visitors
8.1 Making your building accessible
Physical access is important, and the first aim should be to make it easy for everyone to come into our buildings and to be able move around inside them. Places of worship as public buildings are legally required to make themselves accessible within reason to all those with physical disabilities. (Disabled access is now covered within the Equality Act 2010.) With historic buildings this has to be balanced against aesthetic and conservation principles. If your building is listed, you will have to observe certain standards that have been set for correct provision. These are set out in British Standard 8300:2009 and Part M of the Building Regulations. You may well decide to undertake an access audit. If your building is listed part of this will be assessing reasonableness in terms of the physical changes that can be made and the cost. If you require advice on the best ways of making your buildings more accessible, it is quite likely that your denomination will have a specialist officer who has knowledge of these things. You can also contact your Local Council for Voluntary Service or Community Council in your area or your Local Authority Access Officer
With careful thought and sometimes expert help, a solution can be found in most cases.
Access is of equal importance to visitors as well as to your congregation. It is about people with wheelchairs, but it is also about people who need to use a stick, those with crutches, and what about mothers with pushchairs or young children?
It’s about the church building itself and the churchyard and you need to think about the whole surrounds of your building. This starts with the parking arrangements for people who need to use a car and the distance between the car park and the church entrance. You also need to think about paths both in terms of type of surface and gradient. Bearing in mind that ideally everyone should enter through the same entrance, circumventing steps leading up to the building and once inside can be a major issue. People are increasingly coming up with ingenious solutions and all the options should be explored to find the one most suited to your circumstances. Do you need to make major physical changes, e.g. consider a stair lift? Or will creating broader, shallower steps or even turning steps into a ramp be a less intrusive alteration? Can installing sturdy handrails be the solution to a short flight of steps? You can do a lot to help those with sight difficulties by taking care over highlighting edges of steps and changes in levels using difficult colours of surface coverings.
NB: Remember you will need to seek approval for any physical alterations. (See Section 2 above)
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
Churchcare has overall guidance here www.churchofengland.org/more/church-resources/welcoming-disabled-people
Legislation and practical help about making your building accessible
ChurchCare has information on accessibility here
The Baptist Union Corporation has guidance in Guideline Leaflet L12: Churches and Disability Issues baptist.org.uk/Articles/368694/BUC_Guideline_Leaflet.aspx
The Historic England publication, Easy Access to Historic Buildings (June 2015) is free to download from historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/easy-access-to-historic-buildings. These guidelines focus on physical access issues because these often pose the greatest challenges as well as opportunities for historic buildings. Other issues such as lighting, tone and colour contrast and signing are touched upon. There are also plenty of good examples illustrating good design.
The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) has plenty of resources including information on how to carry out an access audit cae.org.uk
You may have been reluctant to open your church building because of concerns about security. Fear of theft, anti-social behaviour and personal safety are the three reasons commonly given for not opening the doors.
But without wanting to discount real and well-founded concerns, often the perception of the problem is more of a barrier than the problem itself. Many of the reasons that get cited for not opening church buildings are urban myths, anecdotal or apply only in very specific circumstances. For instance, you might have heard it said that insurance policies require churches to be kept locked; in fact, statistically a church that is open is less vulnerable to theft.
Ecclesiastical advises in its guidance notes on church security that:
‘If at all possible, your church should be left open during the day for those who wish to pray, or who wish to find a place for quiet contemplation and for community activities. The presence of legitimate visitors will also help to deter those with a criminal intent. It is not the policy of EIG to ask for churches to be kept locked during the day.’
Their guidance notes can be downloaded here www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/church-security/
There are plenty of measures you can put in place to minimise the risks and strike the right balance between accessibility and security. One of the best ways you can do this is to change perceptions: as the local community gets more engaged, everyone who comes into your church building will start to think of it as theirs and so take their share of responsibility for it. As long as you implement the practical advice provided by EIG you will be covered for the cost of any thefts or damage and your premium should not go up. It can sometimes be less expensive to reinstate replaceable items rather than to repair damage caused by break-ins.
Ecclesiastical have further very practical guidance on keeping your church open, but secure at www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/open-churches
8.3 Health and Safety
This is important for both your own people and also your visitors.
8.3.1 First it is about keeping your own people safe. Make sure that any people left on their own in your church while it’s open don’t expose themselves to unnecessary risk by familiarising them with these simple guidelines:
- Whenever possible, arrange schedules so that people working in or on the church are there at the same time and are aware of each other’s presence.
- If people are going to be in the church on their own, make sure that they tell somebody and say when they expect to be back.
- Wherever you are in the church, make sure you know where the nearest exit is. Don’t fence yourself in – avoid lingering in an area with a way out that can easily be blocked. Make sure you can get away quickly by car or public transport if the need arises.
- Make sure anyone on duty in the church has a mobile (and make sure they check that it’s charged up) or easy access to a phone, as well as the number for the local police and church members to contact in the event of an emergency.
- Display the postcode of the church in a prominent place and ensure that everyone knows this information. If there is an incident it will help the emergency services to find the church quickly.
- Trust your instinct: as soon as you feel a situation might be getting risky, walk away. Avoid confrontation and don’t be a ‘have a go hero’ – call the police if you have any doubts about whether you can deal with it.
- Never disturb the scene of a crime and always report it to the police immediately, no matter how insignificant you think it might be. Get the PCC to devise and agree a formal procedure for recording incidents and supporting victims.
(taken from the Diocese of London’s Open Churches toolkit london.anglican.org/support/buildings-and-property/open-churches-toolkit/security-and-safety-opening-with-confidence)
Ecclesiastical offers advice on personal safety here www.ecclesiastical.com/risk-management/working-alone/
8.3.2 Secondly, it is about ensuring that your visitors are kept safe and don’t come to harm. Your parish should already have a health and safety policy. If you’ve not opened your church regularly before then it’s good to review this to take account of visitors who won’t be familiar with the building. Carry out a risk assessment and find out what needs to be done to eliminate any risks you discover. Passive solutions, such as targeted lighting and ensuring any cables are secured, are preferable. Look out for uneven floor levels or steps and poorly lit areas.
Ecclesiastical’s Guidance on Health and Safety for Churches covers carrying out a risk assessment and includes opening your church tower for visitors
8.4 Welcoming Visitors
As a valuable part of our nation’s heritage, churches are often a major attraction for visitors, whether local or from further afield. Opening your church building and providing basic facilities is not difficult and can be rewarding. It can also be a way of attracting visitors to your area which will in turn help the local economy.
A good place to start is to see what is of particular interest about your building. Is it a listed church of heritage value? Is there a connection with a famous person or historical incident?
It could be that you are on a route to somewhere? Or close by a trail, or popular walk? You could be close to another popular attraction and visitors are already coming into your area. What sort of visitors already come to your building? How can you persuade others to visit you? What stories can you tell? What hooks have you got? Could you work with other nearby places of worship to create a trail or an annual festival?
What will they find when they get there? It could just be a cup of tea, but it could also be something for all ranges of visitors – young, old, other languages, those interested in church architecture. Or if you have identified your existing visitors and/or those you want to target, provide something that will be of specific interest to them.
And don’t forget to engage with and invite your local community to come and find out about the church’s role in the history of their local community. (See also under Education, below). You may find useful volunteers who can help you do some research and produce interpretation material and displays.
8.4.1 Promoting your church
If you haven’t got one already, create a website for your church or ensure that you have a section on the local/village website and keep it up to date. Look up local attractions and see if you can cross advertise each other’s attractions and activities via leaflets, flyers or websites. It can only be of mutual benefit.
If you are close by local trails or walks, see if your church can be included in information and maps and your building signposted as a place of interest or where walkers can find a cup of tea.
And perhaps most useful, think about putting details of your church up on the Explore Churches UK-wide website. Managed by the National Churches Trust, this is the ‘the website for those who love churches’ and is a high quality resource for visitors and churches, supporting and promoting churches of all denominations as fascinating places to visit. Churches can promote their church nationally on the website. www.explorechurches.org
Look at the other websites which promote your area/county and see if your church can be added as a visitor attraction. If you are of national value then you can try some of the national websites such as Britain Express britainexpress.com
Go and talk to your nearest Tourism Office and/or Tourism Officer at your Local Authority. They should be able to give you good advice and an overview of the tourism opportunities for your area.
You may also find that your Regional/County Tourism agency already recognise the potential of religious sites.
There are also plenty of annual heritage-based festivals now happening across the country as well as an increasing number of faith trails or specialist church festivals. Pilgrimages are also increasingly popular – some of which have been brought together here britishpilgrimage.org/routes
The Open Gardens initiative is a good event for churches to partner with in their local areas opengardens.co.uk.
So, check out what is happening in your area and ask to be included.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
If you are a Church of England church, have a look at your Diocesan website, as many of them have guidance on opening up your church and some run Open Churches Weeks and/or annual festivals.
Methodist Heritage is the name for the work of the Methodist Church in Britain aimed at preserving its heritage and using it as a tool for contemporary mission. They have brought together information on Methodist Heritage and sites across the UK both on their website and also in the Methodist Heritage handbook, an annual publication. They have also developed trails including A Railways and Religion Trail in Cumbria. Part of the Western Dales Faith Trail, it takes in 12 small, serene chapels and churches and explains their history relating to the development of the railway. It is a good example of what story telling can do for local communities and tourism.
There is also guidance for Methodist chapels on how they can research and tell their own stories. This can be found on their website methodistheritage.org.uk
There are two national initiatives that you can take part in and benefit from the overall publicity and guidance.
Heritage Open Days is England’s largest festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. Every year for four days in September, places across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history. Your church could be one of them. heritageopendays.org.uk/organising
Ride+Stride is a sponsored bike ride or walk when people all over England walk or cycle between churches, exploring and enjoying the countryside from Cornwall to Northumberland. The money they raise helps to save historic churches, chapels and meeting houses for future generations by funding urgent repairs and the installation of modern facilities. rideandstrideuk.org
Using Social Media
The Near Neighbours Project (funded by DCLG) has produced ‘Social Media Toolkit: Building your Online Profile’. This provides the ideas, information, and support that will enable you to grow your social media base as you engage with your community and publicise the work you are doing. www.near-neighbours.org.uk/resources-gallery/2018/8/6/social-media-toolkit
The Church of England offers advice on all forms of using social media here
You can also search the National Churches Trust’s Resource Centre using the ‘publicity’ tag which will bring up guidance on all aspects of promoting your project from social media to newsletters and websites to using the local press.
Setting up a church website
A large number of websites offer guidance on how to create an effective website. A good place to start is goodchurchwebsites.org.uk.
Guidance on making sure your website is fully accessible is here
You can also create a website for your church using achurchnearyou.com which is free to all Church of England parishes.
8.4.2 What are your visitors going to find? Telling your visitors about your building and what happens inside it.
There are many reasons why someone is visiting your church. Places of worship are spaces where visitors can learn about architecture, arts and crafts, and past historical events as well as social history. They are keepers of community heritage, traditions and rites that may have been practiced for generations. They are also places of the present where people come to worship and take part in various community activities and events. You should ensure that visitors can find out about all these aspects.
- Think about what the main attractions of your building are from the point of view of a visitor. If someone entered the church with only five minutes to spare what are the ‘must-sees’ towards which you’d direct him or her? What about if there was half an hour to spare? Here are some thoughts on other kinds of information you might want to provide.
- Introduce yourselves and the current life of the living church with photographs of members of the church family and recent events.
- Interpret the church as a place of worship. Explain the function of items such as the altar, lectern and font and what they represent for Christians. Don’t assume prior knowledge on the part of visitors.
- Find out the history of your building and its architecture. Sources like the Pevsner ‘Buildings of England’ architectural guides or, if your building is listed, the National Heritage List for England, are a good place to start. Consult the local studies department at your nearest library or Records Office.
- Who founded or sponsored your church? Who designed it? What else did that person build? Did any famous craftsmen or designers work on it? Are there any associations with famous people or organisations and historical events? Who’s buried there? Has your church ever been featured in literature, film or on TV? What are its connections with the history of the local area and community?
- Think about the different types of visitors you have. Families with children. Different nationalities who may need information in other languages or people with specialist interests.
(taken from the Diocese of London’s Open Churches toolkit london.anglican.org/support/buildings-and-property/open-churches-toolkit/interpreting-and-celebrating-your-building)
How to Encourage Visitors on a Spiritual Journey
When a visitor comes into a church, it can provide an opportunity to understand their Christian heritage and renew or deepen their spiritual experience. A short guide written by the Revd Eileen McLean, former vicar of Bamburgh and Ellingham, offers practical and simple suggestions on how to engage visitors in the faith for which the buildings were built. It came out of a piece of research carried out for the Newcastle Diocese Tourism Task Group in 2006.
‘Some are very obvious; some are only relevant in particular situations. They are offered to stimulate parish thinking. All buildings and parish situations are different. The imaginative possibilities are endless’. cvta.org.uk/resources/encouraging-visitors-booklet
The use of technology in engaging visitors
Many churches are creating 360º video tours of their church and installing them on their websites as a way of showing their wonderful interiors to those who may not be able to physically visit as well as enticing other people to visit. You can good examples here
Increasingly, churches are exploring the use of new technology to help guide visitors around their church building once they get there.
The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture based at the University of York has undertaken various projects with churches – using the latest technology to improve the visitor experience. These include 3D visualisation, videos and panoramic photography. They specialise in presenting interpretative materials via interactive touch screens, mobile devices, display screens, web presentations and information boards. christianityandculture.org.uk/partnerships. Examples such as the church of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, famous as the burial place of William Shakespeare, can now be explored with the help of an app for mobile phones and iPads.
In 2010, in Holy Trinity, Micklegate, York a new installation called ‘Micklegate Priory Revealed’ was introduced. This took the form of an interactive touchscreen that allows the visitor to experience the 15th-century Micklegate Priory, digitally reconstructed in a detailed 3D visualisation. Twelve areas of the priory can be investigated, including the cloister, the workshops, the gardens and the fishponds. Each area provides several information points, illustrating interesting details on how the priory functioned and how its inhabitants lived. holytrinityyork.org
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
The Diocese of Coventry’s Divine Inspiration project (now ended) which was funded by Historic England) produced easy guidance leaflets to assist you in opening up your church building, which include:
Toolkit 1: Ten Top Tips for Welcoming Visitors to your Church;
Toolkit 2: Interpreting your Building for Visitors;
Toolkit 3: Opening with Confidence with ‘Sound advice and useful suggestions about security issues associated with opening up your church buildings and keeping your volunteers safe’;
Toolkit 4: Getting Noticed which ‘ensures you make a good first impression on visitors to your building and provide information people can access using technology’;
Toolkit 6: Unlock the story of your church – online!
Toolkit 7: Church and School – Working Together
Toolkit 9: Understanding and Sharing your Churchyard
Although some of the signposted resources are now out of date, the advice and suggestions are still relevant. The full toolkit can be downloaded from s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/arcentre/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/08094544/Divine-Inspiration-Toolkit___full-1.pdf
You can find more guidance on best practice, useful ideas and practical help on how you can provide a worthwhile experience to your visitors from the following websites:
Over the last few years, the Revd Nigel Lacey has been visiting churches on his motorbike across England and reporting back on what sort of welcome he finds. churchtourismstudy.com/about
The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) has designed Children’s Trails for 8-12-year-olds, which could be used for people of all ages. They guide the participant round a church looking at the architecture, history and furnishings. You can adapt it to suit your own church building. More information at: theartssociety.org/what-we-do/nadfas-church-trails
Christianity and Culture has a great resource: The English Parish Church through the Centuries: daily life & spirituality, art & architecture, literature & music – an interactive DVD-ROM that traces the development of the country’s most iconic ecclesiastical buildings across the centuries. This major new digital resource combines easily accessible introductions to the latest academic research on parish churches and the influence of Christianity on literature, music, art and society with images from national and international collections. It can be used to inform and support interpretation material for your own church. christianityandculture.org.uk/resources/epc
The Diocese of Hereford has produced a series of practical advice sheets ‘on how to make your church more welcoming’. This information has been produced to provide a practical step-by-step guide to help set high standards for churches to enhance the quality of their welcome for visitors. Reassuringly, it starts by saying ‘It is important to realise at the outset that most improvements need not cost vast sums of money and (be) a further drain of already tight resources’. The guidance covers topics ranging from how to produce interpretation panels, signage and leaflets to the preparation and serving of food on church premises. This can be downloaded at www.discovershropshirechurches.co.uk/welcome/a-better-visitor-experience
The Diocese of St David’s in Wales receives thousands of visitors each year. They have produced a toolkit with advice and ideas on how to ensure that your visitors have an enriching and enjoyable experience at each and every church, whatever the reasons for their visit. stdavids.churchinwales.org.uk/tourism/resources
The Building on History project developed in partnership by Historic England’s Divine Inspiration project with the Open University, Kings College London and the Diocese of London provides guidance on how to research parish records, write your own church and parish history and create your own guidebook. This has proved to be a valuable part of Mission Action Planning for some parishes across the country. The report clearly shows that a congregation and leadership with clear understanding of its past should be better equipped to face the future. The full report is at open.ac.uk/Arts/building-on-history-project/project-report.htm
Where to find funding
The National Lottery Heritage Fund can offer grants for projects that relate to the local, regional or national heritage of the UK. You can apply to undertake repairs of a historic building and/or conserve an object or piece of heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy. Your application must also show how you are using your project to help people to learn about their own and their community’s heritage and how it will help a wider range of people to take an active part in and make decisions about heritage.
www.heritagefund.org.uk/fundingFestivals, Events and Trails (a few examples – there are plenty more)
Southwell and Nottingham Open Churches Project, although concentrating on church buildings in Southwell and Nottingham, also aims to help all parishes appreciate their church buildings and provide booklets and information for visitors and tourists and also promote church buildings as resources for schools and colleges. They have published various ‘trail’ leaflets linking together churches with a common theme: The Robin Hood Churches Trail, Medieval Stained Glass, and a trail which follows churches along the route of the Old Great North Road. nottsopenchurches.org.uk
The West Lindsey Churches Festival has been running for over 20 years and takes place over two weekends in May. It celebrates some of the country’s finest religious heritage and architecture. ‘You can experience wonderful flower displays, local exhibitions and the warmth and hospitality of local people when many of our rural communities open their churches to visitors’. churchesfestival.info
For over 10 years, the Diocese of Norwich has had an Open Churches Week. The annual fortnightly celebration in August involves churches across the Diocese holding a variety of events in their church, inviting the local community in and enabling visitors to come and explore the building. dioceseofnorwich.org/visiting/open
The Diocese of St Edmunsbury and Ipswich’s Angels and Pinnacles website celebrates its churches with trails and information aimed at getting children interested in what they might find inside churches. angelsandpinnacles.org.uk
The Diocese of Hereford has a Shropshire and a Herefordshire Churches Tourism Group both of which have a website and brochures which can be found at member churches and Tourism Information Centres.
discovershropshirechurches.co.uk and visitherefordshirechurches.co.uk
The Quakers have produced the 1652 Country Planning your Pilgrimage, which is a planning booklet for those intending to visit places of Quaker interest in the North West of England. You can read about it here www.swarthmoorhall.co.uk/pilgrimages