I recently attended the presentation of the initial findings of an impressive research initiative led by Rebecca Burrows of Purcell UK (in collaboration with Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund).
The research was focussed on issues faced by a certain type of churches: Major Parish Churches. A first time when research on a particular type of Church has been conducted. The venue was the beautiful Christ Church, Spitalfields which is a success story in itself with its recent changes (especially the multi-purpose space and cafe in the crypt).
The figures presented from the research were quite revealing. You can see some of them in the image below.
I gathered that the methodology of the research was mainly quantitative. The churches responded to an online survey and then some of the churches selected for more in-depth study were followed by a phone interview. This I found a bit concerning as a lot of qualitative data would have (must have) been lost in process. As Rebecca mentioned in jest “the telephone interviews ended up being counselling sessions”. These interviews might have a lot of unexplored rich data.
Some of the notable concerns raised from the findings and followed in the discussion were 1) How do we know what the wider community wants from these churches and 2) how do we connect with the youth given that the volunteers are mainly retired people?
Somebody from the audience said that if 95% of the public (according to data from the research) have no clue about how churches are funded, we also need to understand that "this population has no idea of what they want" from the churches. This led to a discussion on perception of religious spaces by the wider community and how these spaces are used. Adam Tyson from his experience at the Heritage Lottery Fund commented "there is no one solution, there are a variety of solutions"!
The discussion was very relevant in today's context as connecting with and understanding what the needs of the non-congregation community are is something to look into detail and requires a wider nationwide research. Something which the EDP is researching in relation to the churches it is working with.
Diana Evans of the Historic England answered queries from the audience and discussed how this kind of research can be scaled up.
A neighbouring churchwarden (Shoreditch) raised a valid point from his 35 years’ experience on how incumbents (churchwardens and managers) have no idea how to maintain these spaces. To this the Church of England person commented – "you don’t have to take all the burden, we are here to help".
I could instantly relate the churchwarden’s learning and observation to the data which we are gathering in EDP i.e. the need for capacity-building, skills and knowledge transfer, and in general empowering these teams to use and run their places of worship in a sustainable manner.
It is a pleasure to attend such conferences and events and to know that the discourse on places of worship is moving towards a holistic understanding of heritage!
The full report and findings of the research can be found on this link https://historicengland.org.uk/research/current-research/threats/heritage-in-changing-society/major-parish-churches/
They have also made a film on the churches and the research findings:
Short film (2 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDc8HdFnhhE&feature=youtu.be
Full length film (15 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjHZW78ub78&feature=youtu.be