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Building Volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities and the Church of England is no exception, yet for a national organisation, from a public perspective, its volunteers are largely unseen, working in the background.

“The church is an important and visible part of the community. It is also a very old building so to continue to serve worship and other activities it needs attention, and I am very willing to help with this. From an architectural and cultural heritage perspective, maintaining our churches is of vital national importance.”

Survey Participant

During the summer of 2021, the Historic Church Buildings Support Officer for the Diocese of Ely conducted a survey of church building volunteers, including Churchwardens, Fabric Officers, PCC members and any other volunteers involved in the care and management of church buildings. 

The key aims of the survey were to:

  • Gather baseline data on volunteers involved in the care of church buildings including role types, age, length of service etc…
  • Capture the first-hand experience of volunteers
  • Explore the nature and ‘health’ of local volunteering at churches within the Diocese of Ely
  • Carry out a skills audit
  • Identify support and training needs and preferences
  • Highlight concerns and aspirations for the future

In addition to the online survey, a number of follow-up discussions took place between August and November.


140 people took part in the survey, representing 113 parishes which is just over a third of parishes in the Diocese of Ely (37%) and just over a third of churches including ungraded buildings (34%). 41 people indicated that they would be happy to take part in follow-up discussions, of these 30 took place via zoom, over the phone or in face-to-face meetings.

The survey and discussions highlighted the scale of the demands placed on many volunteers, particularly in smaller, rural parishes.  It also identified a lack of support for the breadth of work volunteers take on, not just relating to church buildings, and at times, a lack of understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced.

The key barriers to looking after and realising the potential of church buildings were highlighted as resources, both financial and human. Most people expressed deep concern about the future, highlighting the challenge of volunteer succession as a potentially bigger problem than congregation numbers or lack of capital funding. 

It became apparent that there is a need to improve the quality of volunteering in The Church of England; it is hoped that this survey may inspire some new thinking.

Recommendations included:

  • more bespoke training and support
  • sharing of best practice between volunteers
  • review of volunteer roles and their relevance to modern attitudes towards volunteering, particularly in light of the pandemic
  • greater recognition of the contribution that volunteers make, including a financial calculation of hours, donations of equipment and materials etc
  • funding tailored to the needs of church buildings and the volunteers caring for them.

View the full Report

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who took part or sent words of support.

If you have any comments or queries about the survey, please contact Holly Isted, Historic Church Buildings Support Officer.

Page last updated: Friday 3rd December 2021 3:58 PM
First published on: 3rd December 2021
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