Lottery puts pounds 20m in church collection plate

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The Independent Online
Church congregations struggling to maintain crumbling places of worship were yesterday guaranteed pounds 20m a year from the lottery and the state.

Acting jointly, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will ring-fence aid for churches, at a time when the state's share is vulnerable to public spending cuts.

There are nearly 15,000 listed buildings in religious use in England, of which almost 13,000 are churches of the Church of England. A third of the 9,000 Grade I listed buildings are parish churches.

But keeping a building watertight and in good repair when it is hundreds of years old is beyond most congregations. A new lead roof for an average- sized parish church costs around pounds 50,000, refurbishing the stonework of a tower up to pounds 100,000 and repairing a ring of six bells maybe pounds 30,000.

In a vivid illustration of decay and restoration, the joint fund was launched in Christ Church, Spitalfields, the 18th century masterpiece of Nicholas Hawksmoor. It fell into disrepair and disuse for 21 years until 1988. A pounds 4.5m restoration programme is now underway and should be completed by the millennium. English Heritage have contributed pounds 435,000 and HLF pounds 2.45m. The new fund is intended to give efficient access to restoration grants.

Until now, applications for major and urgent repairs had to be made to English Heritage, while applications for other work were made to the HLF.

Graveyards, walls, bell, organs and archaeology will all be eligible for funding. But some clergymen doubt whether there will be sufficient money. The Rev Malcolm Macnaughton, of St John's, Hoxton, was "not sure whether to apply for a grant or buy a lottery ticket".