Applying for grant funding for churches and historic building conservation

Applying for grant funding for the conservation and restoration of churches and listed buildings can be a complex and daunting task.

The rules on which projects qualify are stringent and decisions on whether to award funding often hinge on technicalities and other small details.

As many of those seeking grant funding for churches and other places of worship are volunteers, with little or no expertise in such matters, it’s hardly surprising that many applications for grant funding fail.

For example, when the chancellor George Osbourne announced a £15 million fund for urgent repairs to roofs on listed places of worship late last year, the eight week application proved a tough call for church wardens and parochial church council members given that it fell over Christmas.

At Harrison Pitt Architects we have been involved in large number of successful applications for grant funding to help with church conservation and the restoration of other listed and historic buildings. There are some basic principles of a successful application for grant funding and here are my top tips:

  1. Check you qualify for funding

This should go without saying, but you need to check that you meet the funder’s criteria. For example, some funders, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, only support listed churches. The Church Urban Fund targets mainly anti-poverty initiatives within the community. Applying to the wrong fund that won’t support you can be a costly waste of time and resources.

  1. Read the application advice carefully

It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it many times before, each application is new and different. The requirements are always changing and different grant bodies require different documentation to support your application. Make sure you’re clear on exactly what is required and how the application is to be submitted.

  1. Be aware of the deadline and plan backwards

In some cases the supporting documentation you need, if it’s being provided by a specialist body, consultant or authority, can take weeks to receive. By understanding any deadlines for the funding you’re applying for, you can then ‘work backwards’ from that point to ensure you have enough time to get all the documentation, evidence, and professional advice you need. A rushed application is often a poor one, so create a timetable. Always make yourself a copy of the application for your own records (and for reference in future applications) and to provide to consultants and contractors who’ll be working with you on the project.

  1. The details matter

Why does your building have a unique need to be restored? High quality photographs, architects and other consultants’ reports, cost proposals and so on, will answer this question for the grant assessors and show that you’ve been thorough and diligent in your approach. You should also demonstrate that you’ve consulted a wide range of stakeholders on the project and that you’ve made exhaustive efforts to raise funds and remedy issues by other means.

  1. Apply to several funders but tailor your application each time

If you don’t ask you don’t get. Lots of funders like to give many small grants, so in larger projects be prepared to apply to many sources. However, avoid just cutting and pasting information and answers from previous applications. Grant assessors review hundreds of applications and will quickly spot applications that have failed to provide the right information to the right questions. Each application should be unique.

  1. Be determined and resilient

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t be too disheartened. Get feedback for why you didn’t receive the grant and think about how you can improve your application next time. Sometimes it’s due to matters outside of your control and a case of the right application submitted at the wrong time. Many applications can be successful second time round. Funding bodies, such as those linked to the national lottery, have several funding rounds and application dates each year, so be prepared to keep giving it another go.

Zoe Hooton is a RIBA chartered architect at Harrison Pitt Architects. She has been involved in a number of historic building conservation projects where she has helped to provide advice on applying for grant for funding churches.

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