Shocking news yesterday of the theft of important 15th century painted oak panels from an oak screen in a Church in Devon. Our English churches have few remaining works from before the Reformation as the wretched Puritan iconoclasts: the Taleban of the age destroyed much of value and beauty. So what little was not touched is of great importance. The theft therefore does great damage to our national heritage.
Crispin Truman, long standing ACEVO member, runs the Churches Conservation Trust in whose care the Devon Church was entrusted. But these churches are often in isolated areas and the Trust has to balance access for us all to enjoy these treasures, with security.
The CCT was established in 1969 and has saved over 340 buildings from disrepair. They run around 50 specialist conservation repair projects each year, beside minor repairs and events to promote church tourism, education and the arts. A great example of a small charity with great impact, generating £15m of business in local communities from core funding of £4.6m. Just goes to show their results are what make them effective, not some crude measure of their administration costs.
I've been in many of the Churches that Crispin looks after. And it was a pleasure to listen to him on the news talking about the theft. He made the important point that this is not just about national heritage but this was a much loved local church and valued by its local community. The theft damages that community.
It does remind us that our local Churches form an essential underpinning to communities across the country. They form the focal point for many rural communities. The parish church of St Mary's in Charlbury is a lively and dynamic part of Charlbury life. That's replicated in urban as well as rural communities. And the Churches' role in supporting the vulnerable and the poor is underlined by the strong support for local Food banks. Sadly the need for these has been growing dramatically. Even in the prosperous Cotswolds we see that need and the local church is a strong supporter of our Witney Food Bank. Whilst attendance at Church may be getting weaker, the role of the Churches in supporting communities is as strong as ever.
And it’s always a pleasure to reflect on the wide diversity of ACEVO membership and the role charities of all sorts and sizes play across our national life. It’s important to remember this as charities generally have come in for a bit of a battering recently.
The role that Crispin (he’s up on the 4th floor at ACEVO towers) and the Churches Conservation Trust should be given great credit and support.