This is about making your building more welcoming to everyone who visits your church whether they are worshippers, pilgrims or tourists. Sometimes it will be about helping them to feel able to cross the threshold. People who don’t go to worship, will often find it difficult to open a closed church door and walk inside. You need to find a way of breaking down those barriers.
There are a variety of things you can do starting with a welcoming notice clearly displayed near the gate or door to make people feel they are welcome. At the other extreme, you could also consider installing a glass door within the porch and narthex so that the outer door can be left open so that people can see inside without losing heat. The welcome should continue once visitors are inside and there needs to be information about the church easily available such as a guide book. Displays explaining the history of the building and describing the current life of the living church are also important in helping visitors to fully appreciate what they are looking at. You may also want to find ways of explaining the Christian Faith to visitors and the function of some of the artefacts such as the pulpit and the altar that they will find.
And for local people, places of worship are some of the key keepers of community heritage. Churchyards, in particular, are a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the area. In addition, they are also keepers of traditions and rites that may have been practiced for generations.
For more on the welcoming of visitors see Tourism, below. For more on the provision of interpretation material for a range of visitors see Education, below.
Physical access is also important and the first aim should be to make it easy for everyone to come into our buildings and to be able move around inside them. Places of worship as public buildings are legally required to make themselves accessible within reason to all those with physical disabilities. (Disabled access is now covered within the Equality Act 2010.) With historic buildings this has to be balanced against aesthetic and conservation principles. If your building is listed, you will have to observe certain standards that have been set for correct provision. These are set out in British Standard 8300:2009 and Part M of the Building Regulations. You may well decide to undertake an access audit and if your building is listed part of this will be assessing reasonableness in terms of the physical changes that can be made and the cost. If you require advice on the best ways of making your buildings more accessible, it is quite likely that your denomination will have a specialist officer who has knowledge of these things. You can also contact your Local Council for Voluntary Service or Community Council in your area or your Local Authority Access Officer
With careful thought and sometimes expert help, a solution can be found in most cases.
This is of equal importance to visitors as well as to your congregation. It is about people with wheelchairs, but it is also about people who need to use a stick, those with crutches, and what about mothers with pushchairs or young children?
It’s about the church building itself and also the churchyard and you need to think about the whole surrounds of your building. This starts with the parking arrangements for people who need to use a car and the distance between the car park and the church entrance. Bearing in mind that ideally everyone should enter through the same entrance, circumventing steps leading up to the building and also once inside can be a major issue. People are increasingly coming up with ingenious solutions and all the options should be explored to find the one most suited to your circumstances. Do you need to make major physical changes, e.g. consider a stair lift? Or will creating broader shallower, steps or even turning steps into a ramp be a less intrusive alteration or can installing study hand rails be the solution to a short flight of steps? You can do a lot to help those with sight difficulties by taking care over highlighting edge of steps and changes in levels using difficult colours of surface coverings.
NB: Remember you will need to seek approval for any physical alterations
N.B. link to Ecclesiastical Exemption (Section 2)
Churchcare has information on security and opening up your building here www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/opening-up-your-church-building.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
Legislation and practical help about making your building accessible
Churchcarehas overall guidance on welcoming visitors at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/open-sustainable/welcoming-people, with detailed guidance on accessibility in Making Disabled Visitors Welcome at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/open-sustainable/welcoming-people/accessibility and http://www.churchcare.co.uk/images/PDF/access.pdf.
The Baptist Union Corporation has guidance at http://www.baptist.org.uk/Groups/220866/Legal.aspx
The relevant leaflet is L12 Churches and Disabiliy Issues
For the Methodist Church, you can read guidance on the Disability Discrimination Act at www.methodist.org.uk/ministers-and-office-holders/property/technical-and-conservation/regulations-requiring-action/the-disability-discrimination-act.
The United Reformed Church has guidance here www.urc.org.uk/images/s631%20v2.pdf
There is further guidance in the English Heritage publication, Easy Access to Historic Buildings (2004), available at www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/easy-access-to-historic-buildings
Centre for Accessible Environments www.cae.org.uk/index.html has plenty of resources including information on how to carry out an access audit.
The National Churchwatch website has a very helpful guidance note on points to bear in mind if you are considering increasing the opening hours of your church www.nationalchurchwatch.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=72&Itemid=49.
Ecclesiastical have very practical guidance on keeping your church open, but secure at http://www.ecclesiastical.com/ChurchMatters/Images/Keeping%20your%20church%20open.pdf. There is also their Guidance on Health and Safety for Churches including opening your church tower for visitors https://www.ecclesiastical.com/ChurchMatters/churchguidance/churchhealthandsafety/index.aspx.
Welcoming Visitors (see also under Tourism)
English Heritage’s Divine Inspiration project (now ended) had several tools to guide you through opening up your church building which include:
An Auditing of your Church’s Welcome which is an “exercise to help you audit your building to see just how welcoming it is to visitors and strangers to your church”.
- Toolkit 1 Ten Top Tips for Welcoming Visitors to your Church;
- Toolkit 3: Opening with Confidence with “Sound advice and useful suggestions about security issues associated with opening up your church buildings and keeping your volunteers safe”.
- Toolkit 4: Getting Noticed which “ensures you make a good first impression on visitors to your building and provide information people can access using technology”.
The full toolkit can be downloaded at the foot of this page or here.
As a valuable part of our nation’s heritage, churches are often a major attraction for visitors, whether local or from further afield. Opening your church building and providing basic facilities is not difficult and can be rewarding. It can also be a way of attracting visitors to your area which will in turn help the local economy of the area.
A good place to start is to have a look and see what is of particular interest about your building. Is it a listed church of heritage value? Is there a connection with famous person or historical incident?
It could be that you are on a route to somewhere? Or close by a trail, or popular walk? You could be close to another popular attraction and there are there already visitors coming into your area. What sort of visitors are already coming to your building? How can you persuade others to visit you? What stories can you tell? What hooks have you got? Could you work with other nearby places of worship to create a trail or an annual festival?
What will they find when they get there? It could just be a cup of tea, but it could also be something for all ranges of visitors – young, old, other languages, those interested in church architecture. Or if you have identified your existing visitors and/or those you want to target, provide something that will be of specific interest to them.
And don’t forget to engage with and invite your local community to come and to see and find out about the church’s role in the history of their local community. (See also under Education, below). You may find you will uncover useful volunteers who can help you do some research and produce interpretation material and displays.
Promoting your church
There are plenty of things you can do including:
- If you haven’t got one already, create a website for your church or ensure that you have a section on the local/village website and keep it up to date. Link to Section on creating you own website above 7.1 Look up local attractions and see if you can cross advertise each other’s attractions and activities via leaflets, flyers or websites. It can only be of mutual benefit.
- If you are close by local trails or walks see if your church can be included in information and maps and your building signposted as a place of interest or where walkers can find a cup of tea.
- Look at the other websites which promote your area/county, and see if your church can be added as a visitor attraction. If you are of national value then you can try some of the national websites such as Britain Express http://www.britainexpress.com/index.htm
Go and talk to your nearest Tourism Office and/or Tourism Officer at your Local Authority. They should be able to give you good advice and an overview of the tourism opportunities for your area.
You may also find that your Regional/County Tourism agency already recognise the potential of religious sites such as in Yorkshire http://www.yorkshire.com/what-to-do/heritage/religious-sites
There are also plenty of annual heritage-based festivals now happening across the country as well as increasing number of faith trails or specialist church festivals. So check out what is happening in your area and ask to be included.
What are your visitors going to find?
There are many reasons why someone is visiting your church. Places of worship are spaces where visitors can learn about architecture, arts and crafts, and past historical events as well as social history. They are keepers of community heritage, traditions and rites that may have been practiced for generations. They are also places of the present where people come to worship, and take part in various community activities and events. You should ensure that visitors can find out about all these aspects
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
If you are a Church of England church, have a look at your Diocesan website, as many of them have guidance on opening up your church and some run Open Churches Weeks and/or annual festivals.
The Churches Tourism Association is the leading body for individuals, churches, and broader bodies to resource and encourages churches in welcoming visitors. A large proportion of their resources, toolkits and materials are freely available from their website. There is also information on current church festivals and trails happening around the country. http://churchestourism.info/
Churchcare has some advice on visitors and tourists in churches at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/open-sustainable/visitors-and-tourists and lists of links to visitor advice sites at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/open-sustainable/visitors-and-tourists/visitor-advice-sites
The Churches Trust for Cumbria also has a lot of advice and downloaded resources at http://www.ctfc.org.uk/welcoming-tourists-visitors-and-pilgrims.html
Hidden Britain is a charity-led initiative to encourage tourism which uncovers lesser known areas of the countryside and provides a different and more meaningful experience for the visitor. The project will help communities set themselves up as destinations and can offer free consultancy. http://www.hidden-britain.co.uk/default.asp?p=1
Hidden Britain has also worked with the Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) on the Rural Tourism topic sheet which is part of the new Community Led Planning Toolkit. This provides information about how you can take action to promote and manage rural tourism in your area by producing a Community Led Plan. This involves understanding the importance of heritage to your community and developing actions that will build on the history of your local area to enhance its character and sense of place. http://www.acre.org.uk/Resources/ACRE/Documents/Community%20Led%20Planning/CLP%20Topic%20Sheet%20-%20Rural%20Tourism.pdf
Telling your visitors about your building and what happens inside it.
The Christianity and Culture project has a great resource: The English Parish Church through the Centuries: daily life & spirituality, art & architecture, literature & music – an interactive DVD-ROM that traces the development of the country’s most iconic ecclesiastical buildings across the centuries. This major new digital resource combines easily accessible introductions to the latest academic research on parish churches and the influence of Christianity on literature, music, art and society with images from national and international collections. It can be used to inform and support interpretation material for your own church. http://www.christianityandculture.org.uk/resources/epc
The Methodist Heritage website has brought together information on Methodist Heritage and sites across the UK. They are also developing trails and have just launched A Railways and Religion Trail in Cumbria (see below).It is now developing a lead mining industry trail in the north-east and also a Newcastle city trail. Working on providing guidance for Methodist chapels on how they can research and tell their own stories http://www.methodistheritage.org.uk/
The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) has designed Children’s Trails for 8-12 year olds which could actually be used for people of all ages. The trail guides the participant round a church looking at the architecture, history and furnishings. You can adapt it to suit your own church building. More information at: http://www.nadfas.org.uk/default.asp?section=1581
How to Encourage Visitors on a Spiritual Journey
When a visitor comes into a church, it can provide an opportunity to understand their Christian heritage and renew or deepen their spiritual experience. A piece of research carried out in 2006 provides practical suggestions. http://www.churchestourism.info/index.php/resources-for-churches-mainmenu-56/welcoming-visitors-mainmenu-57/68-encouraging-visitors-on-a-spiritual-journey
English Heritage’s Divine Inspiration project (now ended) had some very useful tools including
- Toolkit 2: Interpreting your building for visitors will help you produce well written and researched material so you can tell your story more effectively to those who make visits to your building
- Toolkit 4: Getting Noticed ensures you make a good first impression on visitors to your building and provide information people can access using technology”.
- Toolkit 6: Unlocking the story of your church online which lists on-line resources to help you with your detective work as you research your church’s story
All these can be downloaded at the foot of this page or here.
The Diocese of Hereford has produced a series of practical advice sheets covering arrange of topics ranging from how to produce interpretation panels, signage and leaflets to the preparation and serving of food on church premises. They can be downloaded at http://www.hereford.anglican.org/churchgoers/welcoming_visitors_and_tourists/advice_sheets_for_parishes/index.aspx
They have also produced apractical step-by-step guide to help set high standards for churches to enhance the quality of their welcome for visitors. Reassuringly, it starts by saying “It is important to realise at the outset that most improvements need not cost vast sums of money and a further drain of already tight resources”. To download Setting Standards of Excellence & Enhancing: The Welcome For Visitorsgo to http://www.hereford.anglican.org/churchgoers/welcoming_visitors_and_tourists/hello_and_welcome_towards_a_better_visitor_experience.aspx
The Diocese of St David’s in Wales receives thousands of visitors each year. They have produced a toolkit with advice and ideas on how to ensure that your visitors have an enriching and enjoyable experience at each and every church, whatever the reasons for their visit. http://www.stdavidsdiocese.org.uk/tourism/resources/
The Church Guides website helps to link volunteer writers with churches, and other historic places of worship, in need of a new and innovative guide to their history, architecture and community. It also includes guidance on how to write your own guidebook. http://www.churchguides.co.uk/
The Building on History project developed in partnership by English Heritage’s Divine Inspiration project with the Open University, Kings College London and the Diocese of London provides guidance on how to research parish records, write your own church and parish history and create your own guidebook.. This exercise has been proved to be a valuable part of Mission Action Planning for some parishes across the country. The report clearly shows that a congregation and leadership with clear understanding of its past should be better equipped to face the future. The full report is at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/building-on-history-project/project-report.htm
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Your Heritage programme offers grants between £3,000 and £100,000 inclusive for projects that relate to the local, regional or national heritage of the UK. You can apply to conserve an object or piece of heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy, Your application must also show how you are using your project to help people to learn about their own and their community’s heritage and help more people, and a wider range of people, to take an active part in and make decisions about heritage.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories small grant programme is there to help communities explore their local heritage. Grants are availablle ranging from £3,000 to £10,000 for projects such as researching local historic landmarks, delving into archives etc. Applications need to be submitted online by 31 July and applicants will receive a decision by October. To find out more go to:
Festivals, Events and Trails (a few examples – there are plenty more)
Heritage Open Days – a national programme which celebrates England’s fantastic architecture and culture by offering free access to properties that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission. Every year on four days in September, buildings of every age, style and function throw open their doors, ranging from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns, parish churches to Buddhist temples www.heritageopendays.org.uk
The Cotswolds Churches Festival.In May 2011, more than 110 churches of every denomination and from five different Dioceses became involved in a celebration of church life across the Cotswold region. For 2012, the festival will concentrate on welcoming visitors to churches to take part in various events around the Diamond Jubilee at the end of May/early June www.cotswoldchurchesfestival.org/
Southwell and Nottingham Open Churches Project has published various ‘trail’ leaflets linking together churches with a common theme: the Robin Hood Churches Trail, Medieval Stained Glass, and a trail which will follow churches along the route of the Old Great North Road.
The West Lindsey Churches Festival 2012 will be its 16th year and will be taking place over two weekends in May, namely 5/6 May 2012 and 12/13 May 2012. Itcelebrates some of the country’s finest religious heritage and architecture. “You can experience wonderful flower displays, local exhibitions and the warmth and hospitality of local people when many of our rural communities open their churches to visitors”. http://www.west-lindsey.gov.uk/visitors-/-leisure/arts-and-heritage/churches-in-west-lindsey/churches-festival-2012/104191.article
The Diocese of Norwich has an Open Churches Week as well as an annual Art Alive festival when historic “churches showcase the skills of modern artists and crafts people keeping ancient traditions alive”.http://www.norwich.anglican.org//about/visiting
The Diocese of Hereford has a Shropshire and a Herefordshire Churches Tourism Group both of which have a website and brochures which can be found at member churches and Tourism Information Centres. http://www.discovershropshirechurches.co.uk./ and http://www.visitherefordshirechurches.co.uk/
A Railways and Religion Trail in Cumbria. The Methodist Church and the Churches Trust for Cumbria have created a Railways and Religion Trail. Part of the Western Dales Faith Trail, it takes in 12 small, serene chapels and churches and explains their history to the development of the railway. It is a good example of what story telling can do for local communities and tourism. To read more go to http://www.ctfc.org.uk/visit-churches.html
The Quakers have produced The 1652 Country Planning your Pilgrimage, which is a planning booklet for those intending to visit places of Quaker interest in the North West of England. You can read about it here http://www.quaker.org.uk/quaker-news-exploring-our-quaker-roots and download it from here http://www.quaker.org.uk/1652
Heritage Inspired has good examples of trail leaflets around Yorkshire www.heritageinspired.org.uk
|The South Copeland Tourism Group
A group of churches in and around Millom on the edge of the Lake District National Park obtained Your Heritage funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and created a touring exhibition, a 24-page booklet and guide, a trail leaflet and postcards about the magnificent stained glass windows to be found in their churches. The research and the resources were produced by local volunteers and the project was fully integrated within the local tourism networks. Their overall objective was to bring an increase in visitor numbers to their area.
This success of this project so motivated this group that in collaboration with tourism-sector businesses, they have set up the South Copeland Tourism Community Interest Company and raised £150K in funding from the Rural Development Programme for England and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency among others., It now employs a full-time Tourism Development Officer on a three-year contract. Part of this role is to develop further what has already been achieved, including the creation of new events and websites, raising the quality of the visitor offer in the area, and, within this, to ensure that the churches continue to be fully integrated into the tourism strategy for the area.
All Saints, Daresbury, Cheshire is well known for its connections with Lewis Carroll. It receives 1,000s of visitors a year especially to see the ‘Alice’ window, the Lewis Carroll Memorial Window. Dedicated in 1935, it depicts a Nativity scene, at which both Carroll ad Alice are present. Below the scene are 5 panels illustrated with characters from Alice in Wonderland including the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the Dodo. The Church supported by the National Lottery has built the Lewis Carroll centre which is an extension to the church and tells the story of the church and Lewis Carroll. http://daresburycofe.org.uk/ and http://lewiscarrollcentre.org.uk/
St Peter’s Radway, Diocese of Coventry is developing a project to tell the story of the battle of Edge Hill, the first major clash of the English Civil War that took place there in 1642. The PCC are thinking about how the church can become a focal point for the sharing of this incredible story. Edge Hill itself is a popular destination for walkers who encounter this church as they explore the parts of the original battlefield that are accessible to the public. At present there is no focal point for interpretation and information of the site.
The use of technology in engaging visitors:-
Increasingly, churches are exploring the use of new technology to help guide visitors around your church building.
The church of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, famous as the burial place of William Shakespeare, can now be explored with the help of an app for mobile phones and iPads.
In 2010, in Holy Trinity, Micklegate, York a new installation called ‘Micklegate Priory Revealed’ was introduced. This took the form of an interactive touchscreen that allows the visitor to experience the 15th-century Micklegate Priory, digitally reconstructed in a detailed 3D visualisation.
Twelve areas of the priory can be investigated, including the cloister, the workshops, the gardens and the fishponds. Each area provides several information points, which provide interesting details on how the priory functioned and how its inhabitants lived. http://holytrinityyork.org/mpr
Aurasma is another new technology which can provide information to visitors via their mobile devices. To find out more go to the bottom of page at: http://www.churchbuild.co.uk/our-publications/
Places of worship offer a multi-faceted education resource. They can illustrate local and national history, art, architectural, crafts, geography and can contribute to the subjects of music, science, maths, geology and biology. Children develop creative skills and engage in practical activities inspired by the building around them. However, most importantly, unlike other historic buildings, a visit to a place of worship can also pose questions about spirituality, life and death, good and evil and contribute to personal and moral development.
Visiting a place of worship is relevant to most Key Stages of the National Curriculum. Key Stages 1 and 2 makes specific reference to the value of taking children on a visit to a place of worship.
In March 2012, the Government announced a new initiative to help ‘schoolchildren to get to know their local heritage and how it relates to the ‘story of England’. English Heritage is to receive £2.7m over three years from the Department for Education for delivering the Heritage Schools initiative, under which ‘heritage brokers’, experts in heritage education, will be recruited to work with schools. Their role will be to ensure that teachers understand the opportunities and potential of their local historic environment for delivering an engaging curriculum as a core part of the school timetable.
English Heritage has said that ‘heritage brokers’ would seek partnerships with local heritage organisations in delivering the Heritage Schools initiative; those organisations could include a local church, archive, after-school history club, local history or archaeology society, civic society or museum. The aim would be to build lasting relationships between these organisations and local schools. To keep up to date with progress on this go to: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/heritage-schools/
So if your local School hasn’t yet made contact with you, why not approach them? They may be very happy to work with you and develop activities for a school visit. It may also be worth talking to other places of worship in your area as a visit to more than one place of worship will provide an interesting insight for a school visit. There is plenty of guidance available and you may also be able approach a retired teacher in your community to see if they would like to get involved.
It is also worth providing activities for other children who may visit your church on a one-off visit in family groups. Remember that to be effective, the instructions for an activity must be relatively simple and easily understood by both parents and children.
WHERE TO FIND MORE HELP
When visiting museums or other churches have a look and see what they are providing for schools/family groups. Your cathedral will probably have educational activities and resources for young visitors and school. If they have one, go and talk to their Education Officer.
There is a short section on the Churchcarewebsite at http://www.churchcare.co.uk/component/content/article/10-churches/170-education.
English Heritage’s Divine Inspiration project (now ended) had a very useful tool for school visits. Toolkit 7 Church and School Working Together will give you tips and information for welcoming groups of young people into your church buildings.
This can be be downloaded here.
The Diocese of Hereford has produced a series of practical Tourism and Visitor advice sheets for churches including:
- Advice Sheet 2: Encouraging School and Group Visits
- Advice Sheet 5: Interpreting For Young People
They can be downloaded at
The Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project although concentrating on church buildings in Southwell and Nottingham also aims to help parishes appreciate their church buildings and provide booklets and information for visitors and tourists and promote church buildings as resources for schools and colleges. http://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/_main/habout.php
The Nottingham and Southall Open Churches project have launched their new extensive pack
for teachers focusing on how the church building can be a valuable tool for learning.
The National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) has designed Children’s Trails for 8-12 year olds that could actually be used for people of all ages. The trail guides the participant round a church looking at the architecture, history and furnishings. You can adapt it to suit your own church building. More information at http://www.nadfas.org.uk/default.asp?section=1581
RE Online is aimed at teachers and encourages them to use both local and national places of worship for out-of-classroom teaching in order to give pupils first hand experiences of religious buildings and the communities they serve. It points to local and national religious resources that are available to help give schoolchildren first hand experiences of the religious buildings and the communities they serve.
There are other websites which offer guidance to museums, but they do have some useful information on creating trails and other ideas http://abcofworkingwithschools.org.uk/ and http://www.museumsassociation.org/campaigns/museums-and-the-education-agenda
Groups for Education in Museums (GEM) have a lot of grassroots resources. Also useful tips and inks on using questioning techniques when developing activities http://www.gem.org.uk/
The Friends of St Dunstan’s Church, Cranbrook, Kent with the help of a HLF Your Heritage grant developed a website providing information on the church’s history for visitors. There are also free downloadable education resources relating to National Curriculum Key Stages 1 and 2 to support work in the classroom in advance of a visit and also for use at the church. The development of these materials benefitted from the local expert knowledge of former teachers who lived in Cranbrook. The grant also helped to pay towards the training of 15 volunteers from Cranbrook School to become qualified guides.
St Peter’s Wootton Wawen, near Stratford-upon-Avon in its Saxon Sanctuary offers a variety of programmes for schools, colleges and universities. The most popular is a cross-curricular ‘monks’ day’ for Key Stage 2 children which gives them a taste of the Benedictine life, including a robed procession, bee-keeping and a frugal lunch. Brass-rubbing and bell-ringing are available options.
Sixth forms and Universities often devise their own programme in collaboration with The Saxon Sanctuary, perhaps majoring on architecture, wall-painting or memorials.
The Heritage Lottery Fund’s Your Heritage programme offers grants between £3,000 and £100,000 inclusive for projects that relate to the local, regional or national heritage of the UK. You can apply to conserve an object or piece of heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy, Your application must also show how you are using your project to help people to learn about their own and other people’s heritage and help more people, and a wider range of people, to take an active part in and make decisions about heritage.