There was a time when no self-respecting church would be seen without a wooden board outside, depicting a barometer next to the words: ‘Church Roof Repair Fund.’
The gauge would clearly indicate the money raised so far and the target yet to be reached. Rather quaint, wouldn’t you say? How times have changed.
These days, the whole issue of church repairs, renovation and modernisation has become a much more refined, and often complex, business. While the UK’s 42,000 churches, chapels and meeting houses are a special part of our national identity, many of these historic buildings are now under threat from crumbling stonework, rotting timbers and, yes, those inevitable leaking roofs.
The parish church, once an indispensable hub for community worship and educational and recreational activities, has been experiencing dwindling congregations in recent years and, today, the full cost of renovating and maintaining a place of worship is beyond the reach of most local churches.
Without generous grants from national lotteries, local charities and other grant-making organisations to fund urgent repairs and make vital improvements to our church buildings, this particular part of our national heritage will be placed at serious risk of becoming no more than a landscape of ruins, or – perhaps worse – sold to property developers or converted into furniture warehouses.
Public support and enthusiasm for our nation’s overall historic environment, from the prehistoric to the post-war era, is encouraging, but we need to find ways of preserving our older churches, many of which are now listed buildings, and once again making them valuable assets to the communities they are purposed to serve, which is exactly what we are trying to do here in Sheffield, at Heeley Parish Church.
Historic buildings like ours are under threat from crumbling stoneworkNathaniel Creswick
In 1848 our church opened its Gothic-style doors to a predominantly rural community. By the turn of the century it had undergone several extensions to accommodate a growing congregation and to serve an expanding local population generated by industrial growth.
During the war Heeley Parish Church continued to thrive and to support its community; indeed, it hosts several memorials to those local men who gave their lives so valiantly.
Other important features include two fine examples of Victorian stained-glass memorial windows designed and crafted by a world-renowned manufacturer.
Additionally, the most notable monument in the graveyard is an obelisk erected over the grave of John Shortridge, an eminent Victorian industrialist who made important contributions to the development of Sheffield. Also buried nearby is Nathaniel Creswick, who helped draw up the influential rules for the Football Association formed in 1863, and alongside is a monument to those Sheffield victims of the cholera outbreak in the late 1840s.
Over the generations, Heeley Parish Church has undergone several building, repair and refurbishment programmes, with the latest improvements being completed in the summer of 2015. This was Phase one of our project, and comprised a complete renovation of the kitchen, hall and upstairs meeting area.
Phase two is an altogether more ambitious plan because it centres on the whole of the rest of the church’s interior and exterior. The work is necessary in order to maintain the intrinsic architectural character of the building and to create a more contemporary and flexible space that is inspirational, accessible and practical for both congregational and non-congregational users alike.
We already offer a comprehensive range of activities throughout the week, including our very popular toddler groups, Brownies and an assortment of groups for children. We also hold family-friendly community events such as church barbecues and seasonal fairs. Additionally, we host the city’s Nepali Christian Fellowship, which has become an integral part of our community. Our hall and its facilities are available to hire for events such as conferences and parties.
We are currently in the process of applying for grants towards the £96,000 cost of urgent repairs for – yes, you guessed it – the roof. As a church, we are obliged to contribute a significant percentage of that cost ourselves.
We have regular fundraising events and coffee mornings, but we’ll have to serve an awful lot of bacon butties to pay for all the repair work necessary.
Maybe it’s time we drag that old barometer out of the vestry...
Heeley churchwarden Sue Law said: “Our church has been a part of the community for over 160 years. There have been many changes in that time but what hasn’t changed is the tremendous support we receive from the local people. With the ongoing support from the community we look forward to serving Heeley for another 160 years.
“We are eveloping a heritage wall and would love to hear from you if you have special memories about our church.
Visit www.heeleyparishchurch.co.uk for information about services, activities, or events or if you’re interested in booking our congregation area for a wedding, baptism or funeral.”