As many of you are probably aware there have been a spate of lead thefts from Leicestershire churches recently and it was highlighted on BBC East Midlands. A ‘gang’ of thieves have taken lead from Cotebach, Husbands Bosworth, Barrow upon Soar and Loughborough. You can read more here at the BBC site – Leicestershire Church Roofs.
These reprehensible acts I hope will result in prosecution, but as in many cases they seem never to be caught. Although in one recent instance if the police had responded quickly (instead of a 2 day wait) they may have had more chance of catching them.
The Churches are insured, but they only cover the first £5000 in some instances and the rest of the funding is not covered by the Church itself (another discussion for another time) but by the local community. There are funds available from other bodies for grants etc, but the community usually have to match the offer. We then have the problem with what to replace the stolen lead with.
English Heritage, DAC and other bodies ask that lead be replaced with lead if visible to keep the character of the building. Hidden areas behind parapets etc could use other materials such as GRP (glass reinforced plastic) and terne-coated steel which have no value to thieves. Insurers of course will not cover over £5000 so when the new lead is stolen (which may and has happened in cases) we are back again to the same issue.
I realise that we need some control over the repair of our historic buildings and churches, but in my travels I often hear parishioners and other parties state they are too inflexible. Many of our churches are closing or need major repairs some of which are hindered by EH and other bodies by not considering alternatives.
Churches are community buildings and they should be treated as such. We need to think about the long term future of these buildings for their local communities – not just for worship but for other uses. If this requires changes to the fabric of the buildings then so be it, as long as it ensures the long term future of the building and preserves the character in general I think this would be beneficial.
I and others sometimes bemoan about the wide spread ‘Victorianisation’ of our churches and the major rebuilding during that period. Perhaps in hindsight this is wrong, they made substantial repairs and alterations which kept them in good repair for many years, the problem is now our churches need major repairs and/or alteration to be used for a variety of uses but the deciding powers would not allow it. Our churches are not museum pieces, but in many cases that is what they are becoming and not the community buildings they could become.