A major review has recommended that old churches in the U.K. should host events other than worship service and offer other services such as flu shots, post offices and General Practitioner surgeries in order to stay sustainable.
The government review was commissioned to determine how church buildings could become more sustainable and ensure that the maintenance, repairs and other major works in places of worship would be funded and carried out in a timely manner.
The report recommended that a network of community support advisers be created to advise churches and help them talk to local councils about how the buildings can be put to better use.
“There are many examples of innovation throughout the sector. Equally, there are many congregations struggling to identify suitable partnerships and opportunities, or who are too overwhelmed by their situation to be able to explore options,” the report stated, according to The Telegraph.
The report pointed to places of worship where “enterprising clergy, PCCs [parish councils] and volunteers have developed their churches into vibrant hubs at the centre of their wider communities.”
One example of a church that has made such changes was the St. Cuthbert’s Church, Copnor, in the diocese of Portsmouth, which incorporated GP surgery into its redesign.
In another example, Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire hosts concerts, runs a cafe and playgroup, and it is converted into a skate park every February half term.
In Yarpole, Herefordshire, St. Leonard’s is creating a cafe, village shop and a Post Office, and it can also be hired for exercise classes.
The government review was led by Bernard Taylor and was prepared by Loyd Grossman, chair of Heritage Alliance; Sir Simon Jenkins of the Churches Conservation Trust and Sir Peter Luff of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“Increased use and helping communities in their broadest form to see the value and potential of the local church is the key to the church building becoming more self-sustaining and ultimately ensuring its long term survival,” Taylor said.
The Guardian noted that more than 200 churches have full or part-time shops, while more than 150 have Post Offices.
A 2015 survey has indicated that 60 percent of churches held parent and toddler groups and two-thirds hosted food banks.
The government review follows a recent decision by a church court to allow Bath Abbey to remove its pews so that it can host events such as bake sales and graduation ceremonies.
Some conservationists have decried proposals to refurbish interiors of churches, claiming that precious heritage is being lost.
The report also recommended that heritage experts should be appointed to consult with local churches about repairs and maintenance. It stated that pilot schemes should be set up in rural and urban areas in order to test the proposals.
The review was welcomed by the National Churches Trust, which described the recommendations as “sensible and achievable.”