There is barely a day that goes by that doesn’t feature some news of metal theft. Having been working with church buildings since 2010 it does not get any easier to hear of yet another church being affected by this desperate issue. The initial reaction of most churches is one of disbelief and a certain amount of despair. When the practical frustrations of trying to correct the damage caused are brought to bear it can be an extremely emotional experience.
For some of the most vulnerable parishes, the cost of repairing a damaged roof is overwhelming. But help is there. Advice can be sought from Ecclesiastical Insurance, the Local Police, the Care of Churches Team, and English Heritage. Where funding is difficult, small and large grants for church repairs can be applied for (contact Matt Cooper for more information).
Quite often it’s only when it’s too late that we start to take action against it. So here are a few handy pointers towards some useful advice on how to prepare against metal theft, and why this thorny issue is so important for churches especially.
Of all heritage sites church buildings are the hardest hit by metal theft. According to English Heritage some 14.3% of all Places of Worship were hit by this crime in 2011. Between 2005-2010 metal theft from churches cost £23million, and rates of theft in 2011 reached record heights. It’s not just lead, but copper and cast iron are also commonly targeted. It leaves our important architectural heritage at risk from the elements and further damage.
There is no fool-proof way of protecting your church from crime, but it is worth asking if there is anything which can be done to make theft at your church a less attractive prospect.
How at risk are you?
This guide from Ecclesiastical insurance is a great help and lets you look at your church from a fresh perspective. Follow the questions given in the guide to find the key points where your building is at risk from theft.
Try viewing the whole site through the eyes of a potential metal thief: are there areas which are vulnerable? Is there anything which can be changed? If there are wheelie bins or benches next to the walls, could they be used to provide access to the roof? What can be done to make the site more secure?
Urban church buildings are often overlooked and local businesses may be open until late. This provides you with a great deal of potential support. If you are worried about metal theft, try to think of ways you might communicate to the local population for people to be vigilant of suspicious activity on and around the church. The sooner the local police can be alerted to the crime the better.
Working with the police
If your church is a listed building (if you are unsure, you can ask us in the Care of Churches team), destructive acts to the fabric of the church constitute a heritage crime. This carries higher penalties than metal theft, and when reporting a crime you should request that this is passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service specifically as a heritage crime. You can do this by completing a Heritage Crime Impact Statement. This will not make the process any more complicated for the police.