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Government scheme gave £42m to help restore UK churches in 2023

Listed places of worship grants were awarded to almost 5,000 religious buildings for essential work to roofs, masonry and monuments

The Grade II*-listed Leicester Cathedral was the recipient of the scheme’s largest grant this year – more than £600,000 – to help pay for restoration work. Photograph: Felix Clay/The Guardian

Carol services, midnight mass, small children dressed up as wise men and angels: for many people, Christmas is the one time each year when they visit their local church. And on Thursday the government announced it had given £42m of public money in 2023 to help conserve and maintain almost 5,000 listed churches and other religious buildings.

Grand cathedrals and small parish churches benefited from grants dished out by the listed places of worship grant scheme for essential work to roofs, masonry and monuments. Since 2010, the fund has paid out £346m. The money covers VAT liable on the cost of works.

The recipient of this year’s largest grant was the Grade II*-listed Leicester Cathedral, which has been given more than £600,000 since last April to help pay for restoration work, including renewing its heating, lighting and electrics, and creating a heritage learning centre for visitors.

The cathedral reopened in November at the end of the first two-year phase of a £15m project to restore and renew the building. Visitors have increased tenfold since the remains of Richard III were reinterred at the cathedral in 2015.

The Grade I-listed Collegiate Church of St Mary in Warwick was granted £141,500 to repair its ancient tower, including work on the clocks and faces. The church was originally built in 1123 by Roger de Beaumont, the second Earl of Warwick, and largely rebuilt after the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694.

Funding also helped with the maintenance of electric and heating systems, and a new security and alarm system. John Luxton, the church warden, said the grant was “critical in enabling the church to raise the funding required to restore the amazing tower of our Grade I-listed building”.

Substantial grants also went to the 11th-century Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in Chichester; the Grade II*-listed All Saints church in Wokingham; Salford Cathedral; Llandaff Cathedral; Netherlee and Stamperland parish church in East Renfrewshire; and Shankill parish church in Lurgan, Craigavon.

The smallest of the 4,900 grants went to St Peter’s church in Clayworth, near Retford in north Nottinghamshire, which received £29.01.

Stephen Parkinson, the arts and heritage minister, said: “As churches across the country fill up for nativity plays and Christmas services, it’s a reminder of the huge role that they and other places of worship play in the lives of their community.

“The listed places of worship scheme supports these precious buildings, which are cherished by people of all faiths and none. With nearly 5,000 supported over the past year alone, I’m glad to see the difference it has made to visitors, worshippers and the people who look after them for the benefit of future generations.”

There are more than 39,000 church buildings in the UK. Funding for repairs and maintenance has to be raised by congregations and is not provided by central church authorities.

According to the National Churches Trust, it is particularly difficult for churches in deprived areas and rural churches with a small number of worshippers to pay for urgent repairs.

More than 900 churches are on Historic England’s heritage at risk register, with many more in a dire state in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the trust said.

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