Unlocking the Next Economy:
Churches and Community Enterprise

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With an estimated 75,000 places of worship in the UK, there is a historic opportunity for community-led development projects to manage church buildings for both community and spiritual use. With the right strategic support for local people to set up community-owned enterprises, church buildings could play a defining role in transforming local economies.

In July 2017, Stir To Action launched a year-long pilot – Unlocking the Next Economy: Churches and Community Enterprise – to support communities to use church buildings for local enterprise. In this first year we have worked with three pilot communities in the South West of England to create new community enterprises through a 16-week programme.

Bridport

A 19th century United church in the market town of Bridport, Dorset.

Exeter

A 40-year-old Baptist church and social centre in the heart of the city of Exeter, Devon.

North Molton

An Anglican church and hall built in the 1400s in the village of North Molton, Devon.

The Conference

Reimagining our Churches:
Conservation to Co-operation

a one-day conference about churches and community enterprise

On Tuesday 9th October 2018 we hosted a one-day conference – Reimagining our Churches: Conservation to Co-operation – to bring together key people in the church, heritage sector, and those working in community economic development.

What happened on the day?

We collectively asked:
  • Can church assets be a significant part of local wealth building approaches?
  • Can a strategic funding mix of crowdfunding, community shares, and grants enable communities and funders to invest?
  • What is the role of co-operative and community businesses in this sector and can this facilitate more conservation and care for church buildings?
  • Beyond charity: Can churches become enablers? What are the cultural challenges and opportunities?

Where was it?

St Ethelburga's
78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG

St Ethelburga's Centre for Peace and Reconciliation is a maker of peace-makers, inspiring and equipping people from all backgrounds to become peace-builders in their own communities and lives.

This unique venue is accessible with bus stops and is a short walk from Liverpool Street train station. Find out more about the centre here.

Why now?

Over the last ten years, communities have lost many local assets, such as pubs, banks, shops, and social spaces, with local authority cuts ensuring the loss of even more public buildings and services.

Alongside this situation, churches in the UK are experiencing a continuing institutional decline, with recent reports indicating that over 25% of churches have as little as 20 parishioners, some rural churches having ten or fewer. This combination of under-use, high maintenance costs, and lack of income generation, has led many church buildings to become burdens instead of assets.

We believe there is a historic opportunity to bring together the economic needs of our communities and the nation’s churches.

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While there is a burgeoning movement to take community ownership of libraries, public civic halls, and even retail spaces, there is a very evident gap in this sector as regards the vast swathes of church properties which could make a massive positive difference in the community-led economic development process.

- Rachel Laurence, New Economics Foundation