A new approach to supporting places of worship

Sara Crofts
HLF is changing the way it funds places of worship. HLF Head of Historic Environment Sara Crofts sets out how HLF is helping time and resource-stretched congregations access National Lottery funding more easily to make them more sustainable for the future.

Among the oldest buildings in the UK, places of worship sit at the very heart of our local communities and over the last few months there have been a number of reviews considering the many challenges facing the army of volunteers who care for these precious buildings. 

[quote]“With numbers of active worshippers falling in many areas, fresh thinking is needed if we are to ensure that these buildings survive.”[/quote]

With numbers of active worshippers falling in many areas, fresh thinking is needed if we are to ensure that these buildings survive so that they can be passed on to future generations. There is broad agreement that the issue of long-term sustainability needs to be addressed and with this in mind HLF has been considering how best to adapt its grant programmes to address this need.

Four years ago we made changes to funding for places of worship, introducing Grants for Places of Worship (GPOW) as an early response to this issue. In addition to providing funding for fabric repairs we also encouraged the addition of new facilities designed to enable more people to use these buildings as well as activities to engage people in their heritage. We now believe it is time to give congregations even greater flexibility to develop projects that address their specific needs to deliver a truly sustainable future. 

With this in mind, from August/September 2017 (see more below) we plan to invite congregations to apply for funding though our existing Our Heritage (up to £100,000, single-stage process) and Heritage Grants (up to £5million, two-stage process) programmes in the future. By offering funding through these programmes rather than GPOW, we will make it much simpler and quicker for groups to apply for funding for modest schemes of repair while providing more flexible access to funding at a larger scale too. 

For 2017-18 we have committed to a targeted spend of at least £20m on repair projects in places of worship across the UK. Following the closure of GPOW, we will open up access to our open programmes giving congregations the potential to benefit from even greater levels of funding than they do at present. 

What is the change?

Funding for places of worship will be streamlined into our open programmes and we will stop accepting applications to the Grants for Places of Worship programme in the summer. There will be three batches of GPOW decision-making in 2017/18 with the last application deadline in August/September 2017 (please note there are different deadlines for final GPOW applications in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Capital projects that include the repair of building fabric are fully eligible for grant funding through the Our Heritage and Heritage Grants programmes.

In Scotland, we will continue to work in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland to deliver funding for places of worship through a single application process to access funding from both organisations.

What opportunities does this new approach offer?


[quote]“The aim of the new approach will be to continue supporting the repair of building fabric while allowing applicants to apply for whatever they feel they most need.”[/quote]

The aim of the new approach will be to continue supporting the repair of building fabric while allowing applicants to apply for whatever they feel they most need to enable their place of worship to become, more sustainable. In broad terms this might include the introduction of new facilities to encourage greater community use; activities to bring more people into the building; opportunities for revenue generation; and capacity building within the congregation.

The new approach will also allow HLF to reach out to a broader range of places of worship as Our Heritage and Heritage Grants are available to any group caring for a historic place of worship, not just listed buildings. We look forward to receiving more applications from the smaller denominations including Nonconformist and non-Christian groups.


Applying for an Our Heritage grant is quick and straightforward as there is only a single stage to the process (there are two application stages in the GPOW programme). You can apply at any time for a grant of between £10,000 and £100,000 and we will assess your application in eight weeks. You do not have to make a cash contribution towards the costs of your Our Heritage project but we do encourage applicants to gain support for their project in the form of non-cash contributions and volunteer time. And, with 50% of your grant paid up front, you can get on with your work straightaway.

In terms of what we expect your project to deliver, the Our Heritage programme requires applicants to aim for a minimum of one outcome for heritage and one outcome for people. This is similar to GPOW where we asked applicants to meet one outcome for heritage and one for communities (that more people and a wider range of people will have engaged with heritage).

Carrying out repairs to your place of worship will clearly demonstrate that you are meeting the heritage outcome that your ‘heritage will be in better condition’ and developing materials that help you share the history of your building will count towards the outcome for people as they will have ‘learnt about heritage’. You can be as creative as you want to when you are thinking about outcomes for people – history talks, hard hat tours, skills taster days, new guidebooks, interpretation panels are only a few of the many possibilities!

For larger capital projects you should consider applying to our Heritage Grants programme. This requires a two-stage application, but you can always ask HLF for funding to undertake the work that you need to carry out during the project’s development phase. This can include seeking professional input and commissioning the necessary reports to support your proposals.


We are currently working on a new collection of resources for applicants that will include case studies, links to existing successful projects and detailed application ‘help notes’. We will also continue to signpost additional resources via our Online Community. Applicants to the Our Heritage programme also have the opportunity to make use of a mentor paid for through their project grant.

[quote]“This year we will spend a guaranteed £20m minimum on places of worship and the total figure is likely to be far more than this.”[/quote]

In addition our Development Teams will continue to provide pre-application advice to applicants as well as developing and delivering training sessions and taking part in local funding workshops etc. 

My team are also working with denominational bodies at a national level to make sure that we provide the best support to the sector that we can. For this reason we would welcome your thoughts on how we can help you to access HLF funding to kickstart great projects in your local place of worship. Do please get in touch!

And finally, this year we will spend a guaranteed £20m minimum on places of worship and the total figure is likely to be far more than this. If places of worship continue to apply for National Lottery funding at similar levels we fully expect to spend at least this amount in subsequent years.

Additional information about the change to our funding for places of worship can be found on our Online Community Places of Worship FAQs page.

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