Can we build a parish room… from straw

Comment piece from the September 2015 edition of the Door. Posted on 18.8.2015

by Natalie Merry

On my first day with the Oxford DAC (Diocesan Advisory Committee) in September 2006, I had a phonecall from a churchwarden who wanted to build a parish room in the churchyard. So far, so everyday. “I don’t see why not,” I said “provided we can find somewhere sensible for it.” “From straw” the churchwarden elaborated. “Erm,” I replied, frantically playing for time as I try and search out what government building regulations might have to say on the subject “Tell you what, can I meet you at the church and you can show me what you’d like to do?”

“Oh I doubt it,” he replied. “We’re not in your diocese. I just thought our DAC would say no.” Whether the DAC in question really did “just say no” or was just perceived as doing so, I didn’t know. But either possibility was worrying enough to have a big impact on how I have tried to work with parishes since. The huge merit of the Faculty system is that it keeps churches under the jurisdiction of the Church, instead of increasingly under-resourced local planning authorities. But we understand that the care and development of church buildings can be a difficult burden for parishes; that it relies on lay volunteers and clergy who all have many other demands on them; and that sometimes the requirement to seek Faculty permission for it feels frustrating and time consuming. We want the DAC to be here to help and to give constructive feedback – to be the people who say yes, or at least “yes, but”.

Recently some big changes have been made to our team and to the faculty rules to further that aim. From 17 August we will be joined by a Church Buildings Support Officer, a post created in conjunction with Historic England and part funded by them. This officer will work hand in hand with parishes from the earliest days of their major building projects, helping with grant applications, project planning, and the permissions process. From January 2016 new, simplified faculty rules will mean that a significant proportion of repair and minor works will not require a Faculty, but rather the permission of the archdeacon on the advice of DAC staff. Alongside this, applying for Faculties will become an online process, allowing parishes to track the progress of applications and to submit supporting documents simply. You can find out more about these changes here, and at forthcoming training events later this year.

Natalie Merry is Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee.

What is the Diocesan Advisory Committee?

The DAC helps and advises churches on restoration work and modernisation projects while helping maintain the historic fabric of our churches. The DAC helps churches through the Faculty process, which is the Church’s version of planning permission.

DAC secretary Natalie Merry
This is an older post. Please note that the information may not be accurate anymore.