Meet the Fabric Team

Tiptree St Luke ~ The Fabric Officer's Story

Tiptree St LukeThe Tiptree St Luke Fabric Team was formed around four years ago as a result of a few volunteers coming together to tackle repairs to the church extension. Having been part of that group Mike Corbett was invited to take on the role of Fabric Officer.  He was joined by Clive Eastbrook and Roy Townsend and together they became the Fabric Team. The dedicated group of three started to meet every Monday or Wednesday morning to carry out a steady programme of repairs and improvements to the church building. They have since been joined by two others, Michael Weston and Paul Green - proof that maintenance is infectious perhaps?

Although Mike already had some self-taught building skills he had never lived in an older property and was not previously aware of the important differences between modern and traditional forms of construction.  Attending the Faith in Maintenance course allowed him to appreciate the nature of the materials used to build St Luke's and the need to ensure that the fabric is able to ‘breathe'.  This newfound knowledge has complimented the practical experience, skills, tools and networks already found in the Fabric Team members.

An unusual window at Tiptree St Luke

Although the Fabric Team was already operating very effectively before the members attended the Faith in Maintenance training course at Terling in May 2008, Mike and his colleagues were able to pick up additional skills, which they have continued to develop.  The increased confidence they gained from attending the course has enabled the group to build on their existing good relationship with their professional adviser. Mike notes that as part of the Quinquennial Inspection they take the opportunity to walk around the church with their architect and are able to ask relevant questions.  The supportive, timely and helpful advice they have received from their architect has also encouraged them to consider a modest reordering project in the church. 

Vital ventilationThe church hosts regular concerts, as the building has excellent acoustics, and it is hoped that this usage can be extended if they can relocate some of the choir stalls to create additional performance space in the chancel.  The architect was able to advise on commissioning a feasibility study as well as providing information about how to apply for a grant. 

The feasibility study has now been completed and the reordering proposals are now being finalised in readiness for consultation with the Victorian Society, English Heritage and the Diocesan Advisory Committee.

Having attended the Faith in Maintenance training course and listened to the experiences of volunteers from other places of worship, Mike now makes a point of looking at how maintenance issues are tackles in other churches.  A recent visit to a local church was particularly useful, as the congregation had carried out some works to relocate their choir stalls and to level the chancel floor to create a more flexible space. This provided some useful ideas to help guide the proposals for the choir stalls at St Luke's.

Repairing the gutters is a future projectTaking part in the Faith in Maintenance training course also gave the team the impetus to consider tackling the refurbishment of the toilets to make them fully accessible to all users.  With his increased knowledge and confidence Mike was able to project manage this work and co-ordinate a number of skilled labourers in the parish to complete the project at a cost of just over £5,000.  This was £15,000 less than the original quotations they had received for the work from contractors.

Mike notes that having a business background has helped the Fabric Team with the important tasks of programming repair works and record keeping.

As an example, they have developed a sophisticated system for dealing with their Quinquennial Inspection Report.  Once they have received the report from their architect they use it to create a logbook with the various tasks broken down into manageable sections.  Each task is assigned a category according to the type of help that is needed to complete the work i.e. is it something that the team can deal with themselves, can it be tackled by a working party, or does it require the involvement of outside contractors.  At each Fabric Team meeting the team go through the logbook to agree what tasks have been completed and decide what should be tackled next. 

Decorative tiled roof

One of the most successful recent developments was to set up a Working Party.  This was started two years ago by the Fabric Team although St Luke's sister church has had its own Working Party for a number of years before that.  The Working Party meets two or three times a year and is advertised locally.  Around 20 to 30 people turn up and carry out a number of tasks such as tidying up the flowerbeds and painting.  Mike agrees that the Fabric Team has had a considerable influence on the ongoing maintenance of the church.  He believes that it has promoted the idea that volunteers with commitment and a few basic skills can have a big impact on church life. St Luke's now has a committee for worship, a finance committee, a social committee, and a management committee. The latter runs the church extension on a quasi-commercial basis.  The setting up of a committee-based structure has also been welcomed by the minister, who feels able to let the various committees get on and deal with many matters themselves.

Well maintained drainsSo why did Mike and his colleagues attend the Faith in Maintenance the training course?  Mike says that they thought that the programme looked interesting and that they appreciated the opportunity to seek advice from specialist architects.  They also valued the networking opportunity, as they were able to make contact with a DAC member, who subsequently came to visit the church to advise the team about improving the sound system. 

Attending the Faith in Maintenance training course prompted the team to think about how to secure the long term maintenance of St Luke's and as a result they have set up a number of policies and procedures that will allow future generations to carry on their good work. It also encouraged them to set out their priorities for action more effectively.  The church community now has a clearer understanding of what they have to do now, what can wait and what they will need to fundraise for in the future.

Iron grave makerAt the end of the Faith in Maintenance training course Mike and his colleagues were asked to identify two actions that they would try to put in place on their return to St Luke's; they chose fire safety training and applying for grants.  They were able to research possible sources of grant funding for repairs easily through the Faith in Maintenance website and with help from their architect. 

Tackling fire safety training was also straightforward as they church's fire safety consultant was able to deliver a training day at the church.  Taking part in the fire safety training helped the Fabric Team to realise that they did not need to carry out a fire drill but that they did agree that they needed to have a core team of people to be trained in fire safety procedures and to make sure that all the doors are kept unlocked during events to allow people to escape if necessary.  One of the churchwardens has also taken on the responsibility for health and safety matters and carries out regular risk assessments with the Fabric Team.

So Mike can happily say that he and the team are following William Morris's advice to "stave off decay by daily care" and as a consequence St Luke's will be well looked after for the foreseeable future.

© SPAB 2011