Wednesday 2nd Aug, 2017

Raise the Alarm – a new appeal launches to protect church buildings

Churches across Norfolk have been suffering from a sustained spate of lead thefts with, on average, three to five churches targeted every month.

Despite the continued support of the Police and the local community, churches across our county are still being targeted and extensively damaged.

To combat the threat and protect these community spaces, the Bishop of Norwich, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, the Norfolk Churches Trust, Allchurches Trust and the Round Tower Churches Society have been working together to find a long term solution and have created The Roof Alarm Scheme.

Through this partnership, over £250,000 will be spent installing alarms on a number of churches.

A church is more than just a historically important building containing so much of our history and local heritage. It is also a place of worship, celebration and reflection where families meet to mark important life events at baptisms, weddings and funerals. They are places of community that build cohesiveness.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James said: “The landscape of Norfolk would be spiritually flattened if we lost our wealth of medieval churches. They are better cared for than ever thanks to volunteers who worship in them regularly, raise money for the fabric and cherish these buildings. But they are under threat from lead thieves who damage the fabric, leave havoc in their wake and cause those who care so well for our churches to feel dejected and dispirited. This roof alarm scheme is an imaginative and effective way of combating these thieves and giving heart to those who care for our churches so well. That’s why I’m glad to contribute to the scheme using trust funds available to me. I’m grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and the other contributors for their imagination and support.”

Lorne Green, Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk said: “My blood boils whenever I hear a church has been targeted. That is why I said enough is enough and started the ball rolling on this working partnership, committing a substantial amount of ‘seed money’ to get it underway. These are such senseless crimes against our shared heritage. Churches are places of worship and historic and architectural gems; they are often also the beating heart of our communities serving as community hubs. We are only custodians of these wonderful buildings, which belong not only to this area but the world. We are taking action to stop the scourge of lead thefts and this cowardly and mindless desecration of our local heritage.”

In many churches and churchyards there are also important emotional ties to our ancestors, they provide clues to our shared heritage and our family history. There are memorials to remember the bravery of those who fell in past wars and an opportunity for us all to remember their sacrifice.

Ian Lonsdale, Chairman of the Norfolk Churches Trust said: “Norfolk features the largest cluster of medieval churches in the world. Many of these churches are at risk because of ongoing lead thefts, which have a detrimental impact on many levels. It effects the structural integrity of the building and as a result possibly puts internationally important works of art at risk. It also has an effect at a human level as many of the community are emotionally attached to the building and its artefacts, and the need to both manage the immediate impact of the theft and then raise funds to carry out the repairs is beyond the ability of many on their own. These lead thefts are putting our heritage at risk so need to be countered. The best way of achieving this is through the installation of an alarm system. The Norfolk Churches Trust is delighted to be working proactively and collaboratively to achieve its core aim of protecting churches for this and future generations to enjoy.”

Churches targeted by criminal acts often have to redirect their attention from practically serving their local community, to raising funds to replace the roof and securing the building.

Acts of vandalism and theft can also prevent vital community activities from being able to meet in the building such as parent and toddler groups, dementia cafes, foodbank distribution and more.

Sir Philip Mawer, Chairman of Allchurches Trust, said: “We’re pleased to be giving to this scheme to protect the roofs of some of Norfolk’s most beautiful and historic churches. Installing an alarm is often a catalyst for wider community action in support of a much-loved church so we’re delighted that the Diocese of Norwich, in launching their campaign today, is making it possible for everyone who loves a local church to play their part in protecting it.”

Stuart Bowell, Chairman of the Round Tower Churches Society said: “The Round Tower Churches Society has given a tenth of our society’s funds to this crime-fighting project to prevent thefts and help safeguard the future of our much-loved round tower churches. We recognise that lead thefts have jeopardised our priceless heritage including 14th century wallpaintings in churches. Our funds will be available to help churches with round towers. We’ve supported this campaign to improve church security since the start – with cash backing.

Without an alarm approved by insurers, many church buildings are not fully insured and parishes do not receive sufficient insurance to cover repairs if there is any damage or theft.

Therefore, the Bishop of Norwich and the Police & Crime Commissioner are asking if the public might consider contributing to install alarms on other churches by donating to the Raise the Alarm campaign.

How to give

To donate to the Raise the Alarm campaign simply download and complete the donation form here – Raise the Alarm donation form

Donations should be sent to Norfolk Community Foundation.

If you are not able to contribute, you can still help! If you see or hear anything suspicious around a church please report it to the police. To report suspicious activity please call 101 or if you see a crime in progress please call 999.