The Maintenance Co-Operative Movement Pilot Project

Newsletter – August 2012

Welcome from the Project Development Officer, Dr Bruce Induni

Welcome to the Maintenance Co-operatives Pilot Project newsletter. Read on if you would like to know the purposes of the project, how it might help you and how you might be able to help.

To introduce myself… I trained in stone conservation at Wells Cathedral and ran my own conservation contracting company for thirteen years before moving into a career teaching conservation to university students. This unusual blend of practical and academic skills gives me exceptional insight into the maintenance problems faced by places of worship.

The background of the project

Since the beginning of June this year the SPAB has been running the Maintenance Co-operatives Movement Pilot Project (MCM for short). Financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, MCM is a natural development of SPAB’s highly successful Faith in Maintenance education programme.

The new project aims to improve the maintenance of places of worship by the education and empowerment of those who are locally responsible. As an integral part of this aim, every opportunity will be taken to promote collaborative cooperation across parish boundaries.

The project is not restricted to any one denomination and aims to work with all faiths.

The need for the project

Why is the project needed? Throughout the Faith in Maintenance project, the SPAB maintained a telephone advice line. This collected a large amount of evidence on the scale of the problems facing those responsible for church maintenance. SPAB’s experience can be summarised as follows:

Maintenance is a thankless task

At the simplest level, daily maintenance is neglected because it is hard, dull and unglamorous work. Its benefits often go unnoticed, and when it is neglected the ill effects are rarely immediately apparent.

Parish resources and demographic changes

We have inherited a parish system founded on medieval farming patterns. Every village had a blacksmith, a carpenter and numerous builders with traditional skills. This is no longer the case. Many parishes are now bereft of the skills needed to maintain their church. Many parishes have suffered serious depopulation and have no people base let alone a significant skill base.

Increased technical complexity

Medieval churchwardens had a simpler job than their modern counterparts. They did not have to cope with complex heating and ventilation problems because modern expectations of comfort had not yet arisen. Church fabric gets more delicate as it gets older and generally needs more intensive maintenance. The temptation to replace traditional materials with modern substitutes also make maintenance decisions much more complex.

Heritage and beneficial use

Few would deny that ‘beneficial use’ is the single most import factor in the continued survival of any building, but attempting to define ‘beneficial’ soon destroys this consensus. Are places of worship monuments or working buildings? Many who work in conservation do not see a conflict. But at parishioner level, the conflict is often acutely real. If congregations feel condemned to use cold and damp buildings by the intervention of heritage interest groups, are they likely to apply their full energies to daily maintenance of the building that they so dislike? The temptation to abandon a historic church in favour of a nicely insulated new parish hall is only too understandable.

Expert advice vs. local initiative

Perhaps the most sensitive and difficult issue in organising maintenance is to decide what should be done by local initiative and what needs to wait for expert advice. On the one hand, timely expert advice could have prevented much of the damage that has been done by ill-informed use of modern paints and mortars. On the other, some churchwardens feel unable to implement any maintenance without being directly told to do so by an expert. A key educational aim of the project is thus to empower the overly timid and to restrain the unwisely bold.

Background issues and the aims of the MCM project

MCM is a highly focussed project. Though informed by all of the wider problems noted above, it is firmly limited to addressing the practical issues involved in ‘staving off decay through daily care’.

The specific aim of the MCM pilot project

Because MCM is only in its pilot stage, its current aims are more limited than those of the full project. Shortage of time and resource mean that the pilot will concentrate on just three deaneries in the West Midlands. These are Clun Forest, Dudley and Stoke North. Though these groups have been selected to represent the wide range of maintenance issues, the pilot project cannot address the full extent of diversity across faiths and geographic areas.

The full project will cover the whole country and will involve all faiths.

The objectives of the MCM pilot project

The MCM pilot project will achieve its aim by:

• Education to explain the causes of decay and the value of preventive maintenance.

• Education, including practical demonstration, on the practical selection and use of materials.

• Definition of the maintenance tasks that can be undertaken without reference to external professional advice.

• Definition of the maintenance tasks that have wider implications and require discussion with professional advisers.

• Definition of strategic maintenance and repair tasks that need expert specification and supervision.

• Demonstration of the benefits of judiciously applied first-aid to building defects.

• Exploration of ways to achieve better working relationships with professional advisers.

• Facilitation of practical network-building between parishes and among neighbouring places of worship.

• Creation of accessible reference materials, tailored to individual churches, that will enable effective focus on likely maintenance problems.

These objectives will be fulfilled by on-site training days for small groups, individual tutorials and discussion groups.

Progress so far

In its first few weeks, the project has concentrated on gathering local knowledge of the three pilot deaneries and on establishing contact with the key players already working in the field. This initial networking phase is complete and the first training days and now being organised. From late September onwards each deanery will have an initial training day to be followed up by seminars and site visits for each church. Invitations for your local area will be sent as soon as details are finalised.

Getting in touch

These are not modest aims… there is much to be done. Both the Pilot Project and the full scale national project will require significant volunteer support to achieve their full potential. If you can contribute to any of the project aims – as a teacher, practitioner, organiser or helper – please get in touch:

The project officer, Dr. Bruce Induni, (that’s me!) is always happy to hear from you and answer any questions that you might have.

4 thoughts on “Newsletter

  1. I am a SPAB member living in Much Wenlock. I am impressed by the aims of the project and would be more than happy to volunteer as an unskilled helper in/around Shropshire.

    • Dear Julian

      Thanks for letting us know about your interest in volunteering. I will pass on your details to Kate Andrew ( who is the Maintenance Co-op Regional Project Officer closest to your area and will ask her to get in touch.

  2. Hi I have just across your project and I would be very interested in becoming involved.
    I am currently in Canberra where I have been running the heritage conservation programme at the University of Canberra for the last 5 years. Before going down under I was senior lecturer in heritage conservation at the university of Lincoln. For family reasons I will be returning to the UK sometime before the end of April.
    I. Will be based in Sheffield where we still have a house.
    I would be very interested in finding out more about the project and becoming involved.
    I am particularly interested in developing community conservation projects and developing the ideas of slow conservation.
    I look forward to hearing from you
    All the best

    • Hi John, thanks very much for your interest in the project! I’m the officer for Lincolnshire, and I’m currently in the process of setting up my first group, as well as meeting with a wide range of potential project partners and training providers. I’ll send you an e-mail with further details, and given your background, I look forward to being able to work with you on the project as it develops.

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