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Are Britain's Abandoned Churches Worth Saving


St Leonard's Church is abuzz with colour and sound. Upstairs in the gallery, a coffee machine whirrs beneath the tall, narrow windows. Tables laden with homemade cakes glow red, gold and green from the reflected stained glass. The space is cosy and inviting.

Located in a historic part of Herefordshire, it houses the village's only shop, a post office and a café. "We have more people coming to church because of the space and flexibility we offer," says Reverend Matthew Burns.

Matthew Burns, Vicar of St Leonard's

Hustle and bustle like this is rare for most medieval parish churches in the UK. Dwindling congregations and high costs make the buildings hard to maintain.

For the first time ever in a census, less than half of the population of England and Wales described themselves as Christian in 2022. The research and publishing company, Brierley Consultancy, estimates that around 6,000 church buildings have closed in the last 60 years.

That's a hundred churches closing a year.

The cafe at St Leonard's

It seems church buildings like St Leonard's have to modernise and partly secularise to stay relevant. But what happens to those holy establishments which can't, or aren't willing to, diversify?

Are abandoned church buildings worth saving - or, as some experts suggest, should we bring the bulldozers in? 


In a small village in south Wales, on the ancient site of three holy wells, sits St Lawrence's church. Its medieval stone structure, partially hidden in a wooded valley, is being slowly reclaimed by nature.

Inside, it's cold and dank. The pews are covered in mould and water drips on the floor. A spider's web, stretched across a wooden crucifix and a brass candelabra, shimmers in a chink of sunlight.

"It first came to my attention in 2019," says Rachel Morley, the director of Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity which rescues and repairs redundant churches in England and Wales. "The church was still in use even though it was cloaked in ivy and the slates were flying off the roof."

A condition survey was carried out. Wall paintings, dating from the 15th century, were found beneath the plastered walls but it would cost £600,000 to restore the building - money the small charity did not have.

Inside St Lawrence's

For four years, Rachel applied for grants - and finally received one from the National Heritage Memorial Fund this year.

"This building has been here since at least the 13th century. It's been in this state for a decade or so. That's a blip in its lifetime," says Rachel, smiling. "We're doing it for people in the future"


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