Victorian Church

Like many people who volunteer to care for their local church Rosemary is retired, but unlike some of those who give up their time to look after a faith building, Rosemary knows a lot about maintenance.

FiM DelegatesShe explains: "I worked for 20 years for a small housing association where I did everything from collecting the rents to sorting out the maintenance contracts, so I knew a bit about buildings when I came along to the Faith in Maintenance course. But the most important thing of all was that I knew there was a great deal that I didn't know.  For me, attending the course was rather like being able to fit together the last pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  It was so helpful."

The Fabric Committee

Rosemary is part of dedicated band of volunteers who care for a Victorian parish church in Surrey.  She is a member of the Parochial Church Council (PCC) and also a member of the Fabric Committee.  After retiring, she became involved because she felt that her background in housing might prove useful.  "It's not a church of incredible historic importance.  It's actually quite typical I suppose, but it is listed and it is big - and like many similar places it faces ongoing maintenance issues."

Looking after stone

Rosemary's church is constructed from Bargate stone and softer Bath stone.  Historically it has had a particular problem with damp which appeared to be intractable despite several attempts to remedy the situation. 

Eroded limestone"From my work, I knew about bricks and I knew about pre-fabs," Rosemary explains, "but I knew absolutely nothing about stone. 

I feel very strongly that if you volunteer to take responsibility for a building you have to be prepared to submit yourself to a course like Faith in Maintenance - so that you can fill in the gaps."

Rosemary was keen to find out about stone.  She suspected that some of the maintenance problems at her church might have been exacerbated, inadvertently, by people thinking that they knew what was wrong, without actually investigating the matter.  Consequently, despite the best intentions, over the years some of their efforts to improve things had only made matters worse.

Dealing with drains

Rosemary explains.  "It's always best to look for the simplest answers first.  For example, when I started out there was a great fear that the damp in the church was caused by something mysterious, malign and practically impossible to cure. Actually, I rather suspected there was a problem with the gullies outside, but I didn't feel I could insist that we dug down to have a look until I had more knowledge.  

Blocked drainWhen I was invited to attend the one-day Faith in Maintenance Course in Farnham, I thought it was a good way to get the right advice.  And then I was able to go back to our PCC with much more confidence. "Armed with information (and confidence) after attending the Faith in Maintenance day Rosemary persuaded her Fabric Committee chairman to investigate the problem spot with her. 


"We dug down and were pleased to find a damp proof course.  It meant that just digging out and clearing the gulley worked - the simple answer!"

How Faith in Maintenance helped

Rosemary says that she found the Faith in Maintenance day incredibly useful.  "There were around 30 of us there and it was excellent.  It was perfectly pitched to encourage people who knew nothing at all.  Even when we sat and ate lunch together, the opportunity to talk about our churches and swap experiences was extremely helpful and reassuring."

Inappropriate materials - cement

After the course, Rosemary was able to look at her own church and its ongoing maintenance issues with more critical eyes.  She explains, "There were lots of important jobs coming up - work on the massive spire, for example.  We knew it had the wrong mortar, but weren't sure how to tackle it.  The course definitely helped when it came to working with our new architects.  By then I knew the sort of services we should expect from them and I had the confidence to speak up when something wasn't good enough.  It gave me armour to ensure that the church got the best professional help available." 

She adds, "I think that knowing we were capable of tackling simple projects gave the Fabric Committee much more confidence when it came to assisting with the major renovation works on the spire."  Rosemary says that one of the main reasons her church experienced maintenance problems in the past was lack of information.  "It was a sort of benign neglect because people simply didn't know what to do."

Plants in the wrong placesGardening parties

Following on from the course, she compiled a digest of information for the other members of the Fabric Committee and she now co-ordinates regular ‘gardening parties' when members of the congregation join members of the Fabric Committee to undertake various simple, but effective, maintenance tasks around the church itself and the churchyard. 

"It's lovely to involve people and they find it very satisfying - even relaxing - to do things like clear gullies and remove moss from tomb stones.  We provide tea, coffee and lunch.  Everyone enjoys it and it creates a genuine feeling of community spirit. 

Recently the local high school contacted us and asked if some of the pupils could join us for an ‘enrichment day' helping the church in any way. We were delighted to show them how they could do some simple work in the churchyard - weeding, cutting back shrubs and clearing out the gullies - and they really had fun!"

A happy ending

Rosemary says she values ongoing advice and support from the Faith in Maintenance team, finding it useful to "pick the brains" of project leader Sara Crofts when a tricky issue crops up.  "I've even sent photos!" she says.

Sara CroftsSumming up her experience, Rosemary is full of enthusiasm for Faith in Maintenance.  "I lose no opportunity now to get on my hobby horse and tell people about it.  Time on a Faith in Maintenance course is not wasted.  You know that anything from SPAB is going to be valuable - they know about old stone churches, so listen! These days we all have to work a lot harder to look after our buildings.  Most of us are volunteers fighting to keep on top of it and Faith in Maintenance is a great support."


© SPAB 2011