Find our blog on our new website

You can now find our SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives blog and lots of news and information on all our events, together with technical advice on looking after places of worship on our new website   We will no longer be updating this blog or Maintenance Co-operatives project information on this website  - thanks for your interest and look forward to seeing you on our new site

The SPAB Maintenance Co-operatives Project team



To round-off the year (or perhaps launch the silly season) we are delighted to have a guest post from one of our (anonymous) volunteers, about his recent experience with the Melbury Team Maintenance Project in Dorset. All views are his own.

Intelligence operatives monitoring SPAB activities recently identified further incursions into the South West with temporary training camps established in Cattistock and Rampisham.  It came as little surprise that a co-ordinated assault on Wraxall Chapel and Chilfrome Church soon followed.   Reliable sources have identified that MTMP, a little known group closely linked to SPAB, was responsible for these well co-ordinated and highly effective actions. Unnamed sources state that the operations were so fast and clinically executed that few local people were even aware of what occurred in the heart of their communities.

The same sources confidently state that the recent action against relatively low profile targets was a pre-cursor to more ambitious co-ordinated actions involving as many as 16 Melbury places of Christian worship.  A shadowy MTMP spokesman, known only as GP, made it clear that MTMP is confident it has sufficient grass root support to fulfil strategic activity for many years.

Research reveals a surprising amount about SPAB.  Funded by both governmental and individual means it operates largely from premises in the dubious area of Spital Square, London ensuring manoeuvrability by establishing mobile outstations in selected locations throughout the country.  It appears that a battle hardened SPAB operative, believed to be Colm O’Kelly, is operating in the Somerset and Dorset area and masterminding its growth in the South West.  Of interest to the Intelligence community, the recent 8 man hit group of mainly local men included Tony Winlow who is thought to have recently slipped away from  London and is now holed up just over the Devon border.  His role remains the subject of intense speculation.

An Intelligence spokesman stated that even the most close-knit of groups are known to drop their guard and MTMP proved no exception.  Having successfully extracted themselves from Chilfrome, loose talk overheard at a Cattistock R&R facility revealed the staggering extent of their ambition.

The Chimes believes it is in the community’s wider interest that MTMP’s plans are placed on the public record and has no hesitation in unilaterally doing so.  Now read on …….

SPAB is the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.  MTMP is the Melbury Team Maintenance Project, a joint venture supporting all 16 of our churches and chapels.  Led by Lawrie Goff (Maiden Newton) and Sean Lavan (Cattistock) the Project comprises a group of volunteers whose function is to help ensure the fabric and longevity of our wonderful buildings by identifying and undertaking those basic maintenance functions that, if left undone, have such a debilitating impact.  From Baseline Surveys, to gutter and gully cleaning (as happened at Wraxall and Chilfrome), to more complex tasks, the Group will work for us all.   It is a collective:  we jointly blitz the work.  It is fun (yes, really):   because we meet, work and banter with people outside our own Parish.  And it’s satisfying:  because we know we’ve done something really worthwhile, and, most importantly, because we invariably retire to a suitable hostelry on completion.

Before the gutters were cleared....

Before the gutters were cleared….

The Melbury Team clearing gutters, November 2014

The Melbury Team clearing gutters, November 2014

The team gets to work

The team gets to work

Colm O'Kelly checks those gutters

Colm O’Kelly checks those gutters

If you’re interested in getting involved in a Maintenance Co-op in Dorset or Somerset, contact Colm O’Kelly, our Regional Project Officer for the area, on  

Autumn events (and a toolkit) are on the way

Our programme of free autumn events to provide training for anyone helping to look after places of worship is beginning to come together.  We’ve got our launch in the North East on 17 September 2014 at St Andrew’s Hartburn. This will be run by our project officer Alaina Schmisseur with sessions on how to do a maintenance audit for your building and developing a maintenance plan from James Innerdale, our Technical Officer.

There are still a few places left for our Grants and Funding Workshop in Lincolnshire on 23 September 2014.  This will provide you with everything you need to be able to
prepare a successful grant/funding application for your place of  worship, whether it’s for repairs, or for a major re-ordering project.  And our events in Dorset and Somerset will kick off with a Faith in Maintenance training course in Wells on 29 September, followed by more events to come in October and November.

Our major event in the autumn will be our first annual Maintenance Co-operatives conference timed to coincide with National Maintenance Week. This will be on 21 November 2014 at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in York  and will include maintenance surgeries, expert speakers and walking tours round York.  Booking will open from the end of September and we’ll post more details once we’ve finalised the programme.

You can find details of all our events on our website where you can also find the beginnings of a project toolkit to help anyone who’s looking after or helping to maintain a place of worship.  You can already download a template to help you assess the condition of your building, and a glossary to help you with technical or architectural terms if you are not familiar with them.  We’ll be adding more resources as we develop them.





Project Evaluator wanted, deadline 30 June 2014

We are looking to appoint an external Project Evaluator to work with our team to deliver the Maintenance Co-operatives Project Evaluation Strategy.  The timescale is from July 2014 to December 2016 (estimated 3-5 weeks’ work over three years) and the deadline for proposals is 30 June 2014.  Proposals (maximum 4 sides of A4) should detail how you would go about delivering the project’s Evaluation Strategy, and include an outline of your or your company’s background, similar projects that you have worked on, details of who would be carrying out the work and two references. You can find the Evaluation Tender and the Evaluation Strategy on our website home page  or email Sheila Christie, the Project Administrator, on

Launch events for Maintenance Co-ops are underway … and newsletter coming soon

Our team have been busy over the last couple of months setting up (free) launch events in all the areas we cover.  Kate Andrew, our Project Officer in Herefordshire & Worcestershire, ran a successful launch in Peterchurch in Herefordshire on 14 May, and will be putting on a similar event (morning session plus simple networking lunch, all free) for interested volunteers in Worcestershire at Areley Kings, near Stourport in Worcestershire on Saturday 31 May.

Meanwhile Stella Jackson, our Project Officer for Lincolnshire has set up two launch events for local volunteers.  The first is in Whaplode Village Hall on Saturday 31 May for anyone in South Lincolnshire, and a second one for North Lincolnshire on Saturday 28 June at the Arts Centre at Caistor Town Hall.  Both events are free from 10am to 4pm and will include lunch.  James Innerdale, our Technical Officer, will be running a session on doing a maintenance audit in your place of worship and what you need to record.

There will be follow-up events in both Herefordshire & Worcestershire and in Lincolnshire coming up shortly, as well as events coming soon in all the other project areas of Dorset & Somerset, Cumbria and the North East.  You can find out the details via our website (click on ‘come to an event’) shortly.  We’re also in the process of setting up our first annual conference, which this year will be on Friday 21 November 2014 in York, to coincide with National Maintenance Week.  More details soon.

Finally, we will be sending out our first project newsletter (by email) very soon – if you would like to sign up to receive this by email every quarter, you can sign up through our website


Launch events on the way in Herefordshire and Worcestershire

We will be running two launch events for the Maintenance Co-ops project in Herefordshire (14 May 2014) and Worcestershire (31 May 2014). Both events are for anyone caring for a place of worship in the local area and interested in volunteering to help undertake basic maintenance at a place of worship.

The Herefordshire launch will take place on Wednesday 14 May 2014 from 10am to 1pm (followed by a soup and networking lunch) at St Peter’s Church, Church Road, Peterchurch, Herefordshire HR2 0RS.  The event is free to attend but you must register – you can register and find full programme details here

The Worcestershire launch is on Saturday 31 May 2014, from 10am to 1pm (followed by a soup and networking lunch) at Church House, adjacent to St Bartholomew’s Church, Areley Kings, nr Stourport, Worcestershire DY13 0TB.  This event is also free to attend but you must register – you can register and find full programme details here.

Diocese of Carlisle supports the Maintenance Co-operatives Project

We are delighted that the Diocese of Carlisle has issued the following press release in support of our project.  We look forward to working with them in Cumbria. The press release reads:

The Diocese of Carlisle is supporting a three year project, launched to help maintain Cumbria’s historic churches.


Courtesy of Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

The ‘Maintenance Cooperatives Project’ will be run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The aim is to create a network of volunteers across the county to allow people to develop skills in the repair and upkeep of their places of worship.

We hope this project will be a real help to all the volunteers who look after Cumbria’s historic places of worship by providing training, support and skill sharing opportunities. The project is open to faith buildings of all denominations and indeed all ages. Regular maintenance is vital for all properties, regardless of age, scale or purpose and this project aims to encourage and support people already involved, and hopefully to get more people involved with looking after churches and places of worship at the heart of many communities. Research shows that every one pound spent carrying out preventative maintenance could save twenty pounds in avoidable repairs within five years.”

Cumbria is one of five regions in the UK to receive funding for the Maintenance Cooperatives. The plan is to set up five of the groups across the county over the next three years. The cooperatives will be part of a national network which will allow the sharing of ideas, resources and good practice as well as providing peer-to-peer support.
It will include a free tailored training programme for heritage-related skills designed to meet local needs and interests.  The scheme has been welcomed by The Ven Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumberland, who also has responsibility for buildings strategy for the Church of England in Cumbria. The maintenance and upkeep of our churches presents a very real strain on finances but it is imperative we do all we can to ensure our historic places of worship remain fit for purpose and open to all. By acting today to maintain places of worship properly, it means subsequent repair costs in the future can be drastically reduced. “

The project follows on from a Faith in Maintenance training programme which SPAB ran for 5 years and included three training sessions in Cumbria. To start the project off there will be three free taster maintenance training days this year, open to everyone.  If you are interested in hosting one of these training days at your place of worship you are asked to contact Sue Manson directly on 07776 197143 or via email at Their website can be accessed at

Visit to Buddhist Vihara and Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda, Birmingham

Kate Andrew, our Regional Project Officer in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, writes:

I was fortunate, in my role as a school governor, to be able to join the Key Stage 2 pupils from Great Witley VA Primary School as one of the adult helpers on their visit to the Buddhist Vihara in Birmingham.  The pupils were visiting as part of their programme to study world religions; I was keen to visit as I had never been to a Buddhist site before, I wanted to find out what a Buddhist place of worship consists of and whether there were any potential synergies with the Maintenance Co-ops project.  The site in Birmingham that the school visited contains the Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda, Peace gardens, accommodation for the monks and a fairly newly built teaching facility.

The site is operated on the principles of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, from Burma, which shares its beliefs and traditions with Buddhist practice in Thailand and other parts of southern Asia.  Due to links with devotees of other Buddhist traditions, statues and symbolism from the traditions of China and Tibet were also housed at the site.  Our visit was led by Robert Black, one of the Trustees of the facility.  Robert explained the history and beliefs of Buddhism generally and Theravada Buddhism in particular, the symbolism, the devotional activities that take place in the shrine room and the life and daily routine of monks.  We finished our visit with a short meditation session and achieved a sense of composure, silence and concentration from all 80 or so children and the adult helpers.

The golden pagoda is a miniature replica of Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Burma.  In Burma, pagodas are built directly on the ground, but due to space constraints, the Birmingham pagoda is built on top of a brick octagonal shrine room, which provides a devotional space.  The focal point of the shrine room is a large marble statue of Buddha originally from Burma, replete with a halo of colour and pattern-changing LED lights – apparently very popular with Burmese Buddhists.

The founder and original spiritual director of this community was Sayadaw Dr.Rewata Dhamma who came to the UK in 1975.   The site, close to Edgbaston Reservoir, was acquired in 1990, architects plans were drawn up and work on the mouldings and decorations started in 1994, by two visiting Burmese artists.   The not-quite-completed site started to be used for events in the autumn of 1996 so has now been in use for eighteen years.  The Burmese communities in Leeds and London are significant benefactors and gather for major festivals at the site, but on a day to day basis, Western converts to Buddhism are the main users.

It was interesting to see that the site shares many common issues with places of worship of any denomination – both old and new.  Firstly, in order to accommodate the congregation of users, it is a large space, so is difficult and costly to heat – the local solution adopted seemed to be small oil filled electric radiators to provide some background warmth.  The floor is made of teak parquet blocks, protected with large rugs.  The congregation (and our school pupils) sat on the rugs, floor cushions also provide some insulation. The large windows provide daylight and an opportunity for solar gain, but on a sunny day in early March, the room was chilly and I was pleased to have been provided with a chair to sit on.  A  central chandelier inside the dome of the pagoda and devotional candles also provide light sources.

The main entrance to the pagoda is guarded by two white and gold painted Burmese Chinthes, or lions, presumably cast in concrete.  The main door is approached through a tiled, white painted porch supported by concrete pillars; there were also two side entrances with smaller porches.  Visitors are required to remove their shoes in the porch, as a sign of respect, but also to reduce the traffic of dirt into the room.

Two Chinthes (lions) guarding the entrance

Two Chinthes (lions) guarding the entrance

Although uniquely Burmese in design, the pagoda roof has a very large surface area that drains to a gutter behind a parapet.  Rainwater removal via domestic sized rainwater goods is occasionally an issue, judging from green algal stains behind at least one downpipe and the joins between porch and main building provided some architectural challenges.  The pagoda is painted with gold coloured paint; other areas were painted white – maintenance of painted finishes must be a concern on a building of this size.  The carved Burmese teak doors are protected by the porches, but on exposed elevations, show signs of weathering.  A large can of teak oil was spotted, so preventative maintenance clearly is in hand.

Downpipe at the Buddhist Vihara, Birmingham

Downpipe at the Buddhist Vihara, Birmingham

The pagoda is surrounded by a garden area, which presents a maintenance challenge too – to keep gravelled areas and paths weed-free, prune and maintain flowering trees and shrubs, keep the grass mown and the statues and prayer wheels in good order.  These are challenges shared by all places of worship surrounded by grounds.

The site has unfortunately been subject to several burglaries and is as a result no longer taking part in Heritage Open Days, but it is open to pre-booked educational parties two days a week and visitors by appointment.   In Burma, pagodas are covered in gold leaf, supplied as offerings by visitors, but at least this is one risk not present at the site.   The web site in common with many places of worship, includes an appeal for funds to maintain the facility.

It was a privilege to be able to visit the pagoda and to gain a basic understanding of the Theravada Buddhist tradition.  There are Buddhist communities in the regions covered by the Co-ops, but not that many of them have a large places of worship built to traditional designs, such as the Birmingham Vihara.

A virtual cup of tea with the project team

One of the exciting and challenging aspects of this project is that all team members are based in different locations round England, so meeting up as a team requires planning and a lot of travel time.  However yesterday we held our first virtual team meeting, using Google Hangout to get 9 people together for 45 minutes  – we could all see and hear each other on-screen, have a cup of tea while we chatted, and no-one had to move a step from their offices.  We’re all part-time, with different working days and patterns throughout the week, so it can be difficult to get the whole team together at any one time.  However yesterday, despite initial technical hiccups, we managed a meeting to ask questions, exchange views and move us forward in setting up Maintenance Co-ops in 5 regions.  Here’s to our next virtual cup of tea next month.