PUBLISHED: 12:44 25 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:54 20 February 2013
An army of walkers and bicycle riders is working tirelessly to preserve Warwickshire's historic churches and chapels. Words by Helen Mcgowan, Pictures by James Kerr.
In communities across our county a quiet army of individuals share a selfless commitment to iconic buildings that feature in our everyday lives. Churches and chapels across Warwickshire are kept alive and in good repair by volunteers who work tirelessly and selflessly to ensure their future but these people are not conservation experts or heritage professionals.
They arent architects or project managers theyre just ordinary people with a passionate attachment to their buildings, often working under stressful conditions. Steeples and towers rising out of our landscape mark places where extraordinary things have happened over the centuries and while our churches and chapels are
Primarily Places of Worship they are also buildings that reek of history and heritage.
They are repositories, not just of treasures and beautiful architecture, but of a collective memory. History matters because it informs our present and our future. Just think how impossibly chic it is these days to know where you come from you just have to stumble across an edition of the addictive BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? to know that. The majority of episodes end up with the celebrity in question poring over church registers or paying a tearful homage at the gravesides of previously unknown predecessors in a leafy churchyard.
All over the country churches and chapels are re-thinking their role in their towns and villages. It isnt unusual anymore to find a community shop or a post office, a nursery or a library in a church and in rural areas in particular, where local services are being squeezed ever tightly, these buildings are prepared to host activity other than worship. Enter a church these days and it is likely to have a WC or a place to make and serve refreshments. Finally, after many years of re-invention and culture change, our churches are becoming less of a private members club and more open to new thinking.
It stands to reason then that fundraising and finding money to keep these buildings in good order and up to date is high on the list of priorities The Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Trust are in the business of helping to keep these buildings in good repair so that they can be widely and creatively shared. This year, as ever, they are promoting the national Ride and Stride event, encouraging participants to visit as many churches or chapels as they can in one day, either on foot or by bike, alone or with friends. All proceeds are evenly split between nominated churches or chapels and the Trust itself who then pass on their share to other churches.
The Ride and Stride is just one way of making money and the Trust has set itself a new brief to raise the profile of these important heritage buildings and encourage their use as widely as possible. They have launched a new membership scheme and have held their first social evening, An Ecclesiastical Adventure hosted by author and broadcaster Clive Fewins atSt Gregory, Tredington attended by over eighty people. They have also recently entered into a partnership scheme with The National Churches Trust recommending churches with particular repair needs to them for grants.
Last years Ride and Stride event raised 15,000 in just one day a massive effort by all participants. Alec Ross from Stretton-on-Dunsmore deserves a particular mention. He raised 1100 and took advantage of a match funding arrangement with his employers. Rev Richard Hare, team rector in Bedworth, visited 30 churches in one day on his bike, and new this year was a participant called Ralph, who turned out to be a dog, walking or should that be walked? for Hartshill Methodist Church! Many children took part this year also and were featuring here a picture of the group from Ettington who did so brilliantly and had great fun at the same time.
Over the past few years the Trust has been putting together some suggested routes that you might like to try. There is now a library of 12 to choose from and you can find these by going to the Trust website at www.warwickshirechurches.org.uk and following the links to the Local Rides on the Bike Ride pages. Theres something for everyone and each route has a clear set of directions to follow as well as links to more detailed maps to help you get the most out of your day. Youll also find all the forms you need to take part in the event along with lots of other useful information.
Our newest, 40-mile route, the Shakespeare Ride, takes in 17 churches and chapels, many having a Shakespearean connection. You will discover some real gems on this route, including St Peters, Wootton Wawen with its Saxon Sanctuary, and St John the Baptist, Aston Cantlow. This is where Shakespeares mother, Mary Arden is thought to have married John Shakespeare, Williams Father. The Trust have recently set up pages on the JustGiving site also so its even easier to make a donation. Go to www.justgiving.com and search for the Trust.
Helen McGowan, from Divine Inspiration and James Kerr, are both Trustees of the Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust. You can contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.divineinspiration.org.uk and see more of James Kerrs work at www.jameskerr.co.uk