What is a Statement of Significance (…and why is it, well, significant)?
This is an important document which provides a summary of the historic development and main features of the church building. It is needed when making changes to a listed church (and unlisted churches in a Conservation Area), so usually relate to the conservation of historic buildings. But beyond that it is good practice to prepare one anyway, and in any case to do so before you come to ask for permission for alterations to the building.
But why is this important? Our churches are ʻmulti-storied placesʼ where the life of previous generations of our community of faith are overlaid. A good Statement of Significance therefore begins with historical research, understanding how a building has changed and hopefully grasping the meaning formerly attached to the elements of built fabric. Above all we need to listen and to learn from the preceding story – it may well help us define better questions for our current generation, which we then set about addressing. The point of the Statement is to discover the grain of the building and, whether our interventions are bold or timid, we will be better able to work with that grain.
What should go in?
Note the document is a summary, not the full works! A good Statement of Significance should not need to be long – generally 1 side of A4 should be adequate, perhaps longer for a building of particular significance. The point is to identify the key elements and demonstrate that you have a grasp of the particular areas of importance in the building under your care.
The Statement should be a document that you revisit at regular intervals – a working document that is kept under review. It should therefore become an excellent source of information for all those interested in your building and should encourage good stewardship of your heritage building. It could also form the starting point for a short guidebook, or an existing guidebook might form the basis of your Statement.
An Outline for what the Statement should include:
- Grade of Listing: (i.e. Grade 1, Grade 2*, Grade 2 or unlisted but in a Conservation Area) and the date of the Listing.
- The List Description of the church by the Listing Authority – for England, this is most easily found at www.imagesofengland.org.uk
- A Plan of the Church: if the church as grown by stages, the plan should be shaded by date to show the ages of the various parts of the building.
- Historical: A section to explain the present built form of the church, starting from it’s earliest recorded origins. Include names of any significant benefactors, architects and craftsmen if known, and relevant dates.
- Geographical: the significance of the building within the landscape of the area and parish, wether urban or rural. What contribution does the church make to the physical character and quality of its surroundings? Does it have landmark value on an eye catching site? How does the church relate to its surroundings in terms of scale and architectural language
- Architectural: The Statement should show when the various parts of the building were constructed and when notable additions were made to the interior, for instance the pews, the pulpit, organ or stained glass (if important). Some churches hold an important place in the development of ecclesiastical architecture – if so this should be stated. In general do not include details of furnishings etc – ie movable items – unless they are of considerable significance. Comment briefly on materials and current state of repair.
- Environmental: Include details of your churchyard, or whatever landscape setting there may be – is this significant in its own right. In a churchyard identify your oldest graves, particularly if separately listed. Consider the age of any trees, and whether any has a TPO (Tree Preservation Order) – you Local Authority Trees Officer will advise.
- Community: who else has invested significance in the church? How is this demonstrated?
- Use: A brief comment on how the heritage aspects above are used within the mission of the church.
The Statement of Significance explains what matters about a building, why and to whom; it includes a description of the main features of the building and an explanation of their significance. If you come to consider alterations to your church the Statement of Significance will be an invaluable base from which to start, and will help provide a framework and reference for your Statement of Need (see separate guide). Depending on the nature of any proposed alterations, you may need to expand your Statement of Significance on those aspects of the building that may be impacted by any proposed changes.
Sources of Information
Some churches may feel that they do not have the expertise to produce a document such as this. There is however a good deal of help available, often centrally from your church (DAC etc). Your inspecting church architect may also be of help. It is good practice to identify the sources of any supporting information.
- The Churchcare website has detailed guidance on preparing a Statement of Significance
- Divine Inspiration – particularly Toolkit 5
- Regional Historic Environment Record: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
If you would like further advice please contact me via the contact page.