The buildings that are used by church communities for worship and other activities need to be looked after and properly maintained if they are to do their job well.

Church of England legislation requires all church buildings to be inspected every five years by a qualified architect or surveyor. This Quinquennial Inspection procedure identifies the repairs and maintenance works required to ensure church buildings are kept in good condition and thus prevent the deterioration of the built assets. The PCC is required by both Church of England legislation and Charity Law to protect the charity's assets from loss or damage.

While church buildings are covered by the QI procedure, the same protection does not apply to church halls and other buildings for which a PCC might be responsible. However the recommendations made in this document can be utilised for any Church property.

For all the benefits of the QI procedure, it is not uncommon for church communities to dread the outcome of the Quinquennial Inspection and be fearful that the QI report will have a long list of urgent works. Furthermore the congregations can feel overwhelmed or depressed by the inevitable need to raise funds to get the work done. In addition to the fear of the Quinquennial Report, church members can all too easily have a tendency to adopt the ostrich approach of 'sticking their heads in the sand' in an attempt to ignore the issues associated with church buildings. This merely compounds the feeling that the building is a monster that dominates the agenda and is a more demanding priority in the church's life than Mission and Ministry.

Such negative emotions may be a consequence of church communities being under-resourced and insufficiently informed about the realities of being responsible for church buildings. Quite often congregations have the wrong approach to building management and suffer from the all too human desire to avoid problems.

Both the QI procedure and the local church's response are reactive. The QI report is the reaction to the problems the inspection identifies and the church community reacts to the recommendations of the QI report. All of this perpetuates the process of reactive management of our church buildings, i.e. 'after the event' rather than 'at or before the time'.

It has been a long established fact, known to all organisations responsible for large amounts of property, that reactive management is not a good way of caring for any building or buildings. Responding to the latest crisis results in a loss of direction and focus because the problems set the priorities for action. For a Church community this reactive management of the church building distracts that community from its priorities for Mission and Ministry.

As HBCDO, I would like to promote the concept of the Asset Management Plan (AMP) as a proactive management tool, which takes into account the Mission and Ministry priorities of the church members and the wider community use of the building, as well as looking after the fabric of the building. The AMP can enable the local church community to ensure that the existing built assets and any capital funding is used as effectively and efficiently as possible in promoting their Mission and Ministry.

The benefit of the AMP is that it enables the Church community to:

  • Evaluate the sustainability of their church and any other buildings
  • Make financial plans and budget for work to the fabric
  • Have buildings that serve the Church's vision for Mission and Ministry.

A key aspect of the AMP is the development of a process to ensure that the management of the building is planned, budgeted and actioned.

The AMP separates looking after the building into three categories:

  • Regular Maintenance
  • Capital Repairs
  • Improvements and New Work

The first two categories are cyclical; regular maintenance being a short cycle from every three months to five years and the capital repairs running from five years upwards.

  1. Regular Maintenance (e.g. cleaning rainwater goods, lightning conductor test, gas installation servicing and test, electrical test, paths maintenance) and minor repairs (fixing things that break or wear out, 'little but often' repairs e.g. pointing, painting metal work etc).
  2. Capital Repairs - this is the repair and or replacement of major elements of the building and site (e.g. roof coverings, stone work, electrical installation, central heating installation and lavatory and kitchen fittings, boundary walls, gates and railings).
  3. Improvements and New Work - these items consist of alterations to the existing building to meet legislation (e.g. DDA requirements) or liturgical needs (e.g. nave altars, space for musicians) together with the changing expectations and desires of contemporary Church life and society in general (e.g. lavatories, refreshment making facilities, sound amplification, computer technology).

Using the QI report as the basis and working in conjunction with the architect and possibly a Quantity Surveyor, the PCC can put together a forward looking programme (20 - 30 years) of works together with realistic cost estimates. With the costs broken down into the annual sums, the AMP will enable the PCC members to assess their ability to sustain the buildings and to address their responsibility for the church building in a more manageable way. The proactive process of the AMP will provide the Church community with sufficient information to stop living in fear of the Quinquennial Inspection.

All church buildings are different and will have differing needs and priorities, but the items shown are common to many. The totals may look scary, but the PCC members need to know accurately the scale of the task before them. If the local Church is not making sufficient investment as identified by an AMP, then the capital required when a building element fails will be even more difficult to find.

Delegate and resource the task properly

Every Church community ideally needs from among the members a 'Clerk of Works' for their building(s). The Clerk of Works needs to be someone who is physically fit, preferably with a head for heights, a practical bent and the understanding and willingness to get to grips with the maintenance requirements.

The PCC could authorise this person, together with a small building sub-committee plus a budget, to take responsibility and ensure the essential maintenance items are dealt with and not put off. In this way decisions to get on with something can be made quickly without endless discussion and delay, subject of course to obtaining the necessary permissions. Obviously such a sub-committee will need to have agreed Terms of Reference together with the clear understanding that all contracts for work are with the PCC. Therefore it is advisable to limit both the budget and any work the subcommittee can put in hand to essential maintenance.

Essential Items are health and Safety related matters, mechanical and electrical installation maintenance and most importantly keeping rainwater out of the building - cleaning the gutters and down pipes and making sure the rain water gets off the church roofs and away from the building as quickly as possible. Be realistic, £5,000 per year may be sensible. (How does this compare with what you are spending now?) Ingress of water in the wrong place is the most serious hazard (apart from fire) to the fabric of a church building.

Health and Safety for all users of the church building is an important matter and must be addressed. Protecting the volunteers and protecting others from what the volunteers may inadvertently do is essential and should be the responsibility of the PCC. In addition the PCC should consider preparing job descriptions for the volunteers.

Once the day to day management of the buildings is under control, the PCC Building Sub-Committee can then review the property for which they are responsible by considering three linked components which contribute to having buildings that serve the mission of the church:

  • Condition - a focus on the physical state of the premises to ensure safe and continuous operation as well as other issues involving building regulations and other statutory requirements.
  • Suitability - a focus on the quality of the premises to meet Mission and Outreach aspirations.
  • Sufficiency - a focus on the quantity of and organisation of spaces within the building, taking into account the requirements of various user-groups and wider community use.

This will enable the PCC to consider the needs of the various groups currently using the building(s) for whatever function and know whether the premises are suitable and the people's needs are satisfied.

The proactive management of church buildings has considerable advantages over any reactive process which results in the Church community being constantly 'caught on the back foot' and playing catch-up with regard to the building issues. The Asset Management Plan (AMP) provides Churches with a proactive management tool for their buildings and the possibility to be focussed on their mission priorities.