Sir Michael Palin has called for urgent action to save churches across the UK, which he described as “tremendously important local heritage”.
The Monty Python star, who is vice-president of the National Churches Trust, warned of the “many” church buildings in danger of closing.
He has backed a six-point plan by the organisation to save the UK’s churches, which the trust said often serve communities as foodbanks and youth clubs – as well as places of worship.
While there are around 38,500 churches, chapels and meeting houses open for worship in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the trust said more than 3,500 churches have closed for good since 2013.
It warned that more could end up having to shut their doors if action is not taken, “putting at risk nationally significant heritage”.
The trust described its Every Church Counts plan as tackling “the single biggest heritage challenge facing the UK” warning there are now more than 900 places of worship on the Historic England heritage at-risk register, with 53 more added to the list in 2023.
The trust has called for more public funding, said churches should open seven day a week where possible with their use extended to include more community support services – recognising that they are the UK’s National Help Service – and for a strategy to be set out to increase tourism to historic churches.
Sir Michael said: “Right now, many church buildings are in danger of closure. Every Church Counts proposes a range of ways in which the future of the UK’s churches, chapels and meeting houses can be secured.
“More and more churches are adapting to the needs of their communities, providing not just spiritual comfort but a range of valuable services to local people such as foodbanks and warm spaces and helping to combat the scourge of loneliness.
“Churches are also a vital and much-loved part of the UK’s history and we need to act now to prevent the loss of tremendously important local heritage.
“If you care as much about the future of these much-loved buildings as I do, you’ll find that the National Churches Trust’s Every Church Counts offers a way forward for these wonderful buildings.”
Other recommendations are for the introduction of a network of professional church building support officers across the UK to give expert help with tasks including maintenance and fundraising, citing climate change as causing problems for roofs, gutters and downpipes which “cannot cope with more frequent and heavier rainfall”.
A national plan for the future of church buildings should be compiled, to ensure churches are seen as “an asset and not a burden”, the plan states.
On funding, the trust said while “considerable financial support” is already provided by heritage bodies and the Government, additional annual public funding of at least £50 million is required for major repairs.
They said private philanthropy is also important and suggested a national Government-supported matched funding scheme to incentivise charitable giving, through which the value of donations could be doubled.
The trust launched its plan at a parliamentary reception attended by MPs, peers and church and heritage leaders.
Claire Walker, trust chief executive, said the plan is “a blueprint of how churches can be saved for the future”.
She added: “With hundreds facing closure, a national plan is urgently needed to help secure their future. We are calling on Government, heritage organisations and Christian denominations to work together to tackle what is the UK’s single biggest heritage challenge.
“With so many churches offering vitally important community services, from food banks to warm spaces, they provide what is in effect the UK’s National Help Service, crucial to the social and economic wellbeing of millions of people.
“Keeping churches open means that support for the vulnerable can continue, especially important in more deprived areas.”