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Church buildings help the UK to level up

by
05 November 2021

Their value to people’s well-being is even higher than was previously calculated, says Claire Walker

IN SEPTEMBER 2020, the National Churches Trust (NCT) published The House of Good (News, 23 October 2020). This report quantified, for the first time ever, the social value of all church buildings in the UK — not just the bricks and mortar, but the welfare and well-being that they create in our communities.

Last year, our researchers estimated that the total social value of UK church buildings is around £12.4 billion a year. That is about what the NHS spent on mental health in 2018. The statistics in The House of Good are underpinned by figures established by HM Treasury to evaluate policies and put a financial value on things that cannot be bought and sold. For example, the benefits derived from a foodbank run by volunteers, or the satisfaction that comes from a moment of quiet reflection at the back of a church.

The methods used by the Treasury to assess policies and determine their values are published in The Green Book. This is the nationally recognised standard for measuring such hard-to-quantify values, and these methods have now been revised. They enable us to say that the economic and social value of church buildings is much higher than we thought.

One change to The Green Book adjusts the way in which the Treasury supports policy interventions and prioritises those that are intended to address regional economic disparities. It is intended to “enable ministers and other decision makers to fully understand what investments they need to make to most effectively drive the delivery of the levelling up agenda”. The other change determines how well-being is valued.

The prioritisation of policy interventions that support the Government’s levelling-up agenda confirms what The House of Good report made crystal-clear in 2020: namely, that church buildings provide massive social support for people and communities throughout the UK. Furthermore, many of the most socially active churches are in deprived areas. They make a particularly important contribution towards achieving greater equality.

 

PROVISION of services, ranging from drug and alcohol counselling to youth groups, offers benefits to the volunteers who run them, as well as to those who use them. They bring people together for the common good and strengthen communities. In short, church buildings help to level up every single day: it’s what they do and
always have done.

Besides prioritising efforts to create a more equitable society, The Green Book has, as mentioned, changed the way in which the Government measures well-being. This new guidance was published in July. The House of Good used the WELLBY to put a price on the non-market value of the activities taking place in church buildings. This is a new tool, and its name is short for Wellbeing Guidance for Appraisal. Our report used a very conservative rate to reach the total of £12.4 billion a year for the social value of church buildings in the UK.

In the same month, HM Treasury adopted the WELLBY as its primary measure for well-being. But it officially recommended that a unit of well-being, a WELLBY, be given an average monetary value of £13,000. This is more than five times higher than the average figure used in The House of Good.

In short, by using HM Treasury’s figures, we find that the yearly social value of churches in the UK and the activities that take place in them is about £55.7 billion. That is twice as much as local authorities spend on adult social care.

For every £1 invested in a church, the return is more than £16. That is four or five times more than would be expected in other spheres of investment.

Running foodbanks, youth services, and mental-health counselling is what happens in church buildings all the time. Churches provide a vital, ready-made support network to help communities to level up.

 

LAST year, the NCT awarded grants of more than £1.7 million to help to support church buildings (News, 6 August), and, this year, thanks to the support of the Heritage Stimulus Fund, we will be able to provide even more. We contribute to the cost of repairs to the fabric of church buildings, and we also help to make them fit for the 21st century by supporting the installation of kitchens and lavatories. We know how vital churches are to their communities, and we want to help them to fulfil the part that they play.

We cannot do this alone. Investment from philanthropic trusts, individuals, and central and local government is essential to keep churches open and in good repair with up-to-date community facilities.

Support for church buildings is a vital step towards addressing the inequalities that have developed in the UK and that are holding back the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.


Claire Walker is the chief executive of the National Churches Trust.

nationalchurchestrust.org

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