The change we want to make:
RCfE builds on the earlier work of Inspired Futures, Inspired North East and Spirit in Stone. These worked with individual PCCs to increase their skills and capacity to care for the heritage embodied in their church buildings. RCfE supports PCC’s in a collective approach to managing clusters of churches within their benefices. Exploring how they can work together and complement each other, rather than simply focusing on individual buildings.
Since the start of RCfE several events have had a significant impact. The ongoing pandemic has affected collective worship, church finances, the needs within communities, and missionional activity. Additionally, the Church of England’s commitment to achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2030 brings a new requirement on PCCs considering making changes to their buildings.
The Archdeacon of Lindisfarne, the Venerable Dr Catherine Sourbut Groves has refocussed the project: simplifying it to reduce the burden on clergy and PCCs, to ensure the investment that has been made with Lottery players’ money creates long term benefits for the rural communities in the Diocese.
Our rural context: a sparse population, wide areas, clergy with multiple parishes, and PCCs caring for several listed buildings; means that resources are spread thinly. RCfE brings in additional capacity and expertise through both the strategic development consultant and the Centre for Rural Economy, and the partnerships with Community Action Northumberland and the three protected landscape agencies. The project partnership will leave a legacy of practice and guidance to support other rural benefices to simplify and prioritise their buildings.
Purposes agreed with the funder:
As a consequence of the Covid pandemic, we have adjusted the project outcomes agreed with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, so that they better meet the needs of the clergy, laity and communities of the project churches.
The four outcomes are now:
- Assess the needs of the church clusters and deliver a programme of training events and workshops for those volunteers involved, so they can develop their skills and work together to secure their futures as community heritage assets.
- Develop a specific change model/practical building improvement pilot project for each cluster for one or more of their church buildings.
- Engage 8 churches in Community Action Northumberland's “Aspire Award” community facilities quality assurance scheme, and develop a toolkit for other churches to use to gain accreditation for their church as a well-run venue.
- Work with a strategic development and business planning consultant (Yvonne Conchie) to support churches from the four target areas to develop suitable pilot proposals for each of the clusters.
The project duration has also been extended and it is now running until September 2022.
The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) at Newcastle University is conducting a formative evaluation of the process the project has evolved as it navigated through the pandemic restrictions and other changes, internal and external. A more summative evaluation of the four pilot projects (one for each participating benefice), will feed into the final project evaluation.
Early in the project, the evaluator developed a ‘Theory of Change’ asking the questions:
- How do the project’s inputs lead to expected outputs, outcomes and impacts?
- What assumptions are being made about how the project’s activities lead to the anticipated changes;
- What unexpected influences, outcomes or consequences might there be?
- How might the different characteristics of the church groups affect the expected outcomes and impacts?
This theory has evolved alongside the project and the questions will be answered in the project final evaluation report.