In January 2017, I found myself embarking upon a new adventure in my career, having volunteered to sit on the Ely Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches (DAC) with a fellow colleague on a job share basis as a Local Planning Authority Advisor.
When I received my appointment letter I realised, with a little bit of panic, that I had a very limited understanding of the systems and processes involved. I knew that the Faculty System operated outside the Listed Building Legislation and that churches with such a system did not need Listed Building Consent for works to listed churches. I had of course, as a Conservation Officer, been known on occasion to default to the standard response when asked ‘Churches are exempt from listed building consent, so I don’t get involved!’
18 months into my tenure working alongside 15 other members of the Committee – all from an Ecclesiastical background (amenity societies, Historic England, architects, surveyors and local authorities) - I’ve gained an insight into the complexities and the politics of the faculty system and the challenges that Ecclesiastical buildings present. Not only have I expanded my knowledge of Ecclesiastical architecture and history but, perhaps more importantly, I have gained a much greater understanding of the liturgical significance of the fixtures and fittings within our churches.
I wasn’t brought up in a religious household, however I have always found something calming and reassuring about churches. Their architectural design, scale and detail can evoke such a range of emotions and I still find they fill me with a sense of awe that can catch me off guard. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Grade I listed St John’s Church, Little Gidding; a small rural church hidden in the Huntingdon countryside. The church was founded by Nicholas Ferrar and Charles I took refuge here in 1646. The church was the inspiration for TS Eliot’s final part of his ‘Four Quartets’ and is need of urgent repair works to the entrance door and windows. From the outside the building appears unassuming, its simple architectural style giving nothing away of the intimacy and quality of its interior.
The importance of these buildings to local communities as well as their significance within the historic landscape does, in my mind still give them a prominence in our consciousness that is still prevalent today, despite the difficulties they often face with ongoing maintenance and repair costs and declining congregations. Their architectural design, scale and detailing can evoke such a range of emotions and sense of awe that still catches me off guard sometimes and this to me should be something that everyone should/could have access to.
I therefore feel very grateful and privileged that I have the opportunity to contribute to preserving and enhancing these important buildings which form such a key part of our architectural and social heritage.
More information on the DAC is available here.
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Heritage, DCA, Diocesan Advisory Committee, Cambridge, Ely