Lead theft reaches crisis point

“Heart breaking” lead theft from rural churches reaches crisis point
There is a new call for vigilance by all rural communities as theft of church roof lead rockets once again.

A group of four churches in villages north of Oxford have had their lead roofing stolen, one for the second time in just a few weeks. The thefts cause damage both inside and outside the buildings, create disruption to services including weddings and funerals and are a huge burden for fundraising by small rural communities and congregations.

Oxford Diocese is appealing for help to protect these vulnerable buildings. Liz Kitch, Senior Church Buildings Officer says “It can be easy to assume that vehicles parked near a church are carrying out authorised work but this is often not the case. Please watch for vans and estate cars, often at unusual times of day or night and alert the police”

The Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Venerable Guy Elsmore, manages the area where many of the latest thefts have occurred. “Churches are cared for by those who attend, but they belong to the whole community. These crimes are a huge challenge which affects people who no longer have other traditional gathering places such as schools and pubs in their villages.”

St Mary’s Church, East Claydon was in the process of putting in roof alarms when the thieves struck. Local Vicar, Revd Rickey Simpson-Gray, has only been in his post for only eight weeks says, “It is heart-breaking to realise that had roof alarms been in place we would have been fully insured, but sadly we were two weeks too late. We now face bills of £70,000. The members of the church would much rather spend their time and money on serving our local community, but once again our focus must turn to our building.”

The Diocese of Oxford is encouraging the purchase of roof alarms which has resulted in far fewer thefts and led to prosecutions. All churches are encouraged to invest in this protection which affects the level of insurance paid out.

There are grants available, depending on the archdeaconry parish churches are in:

  • In Buckinghamshire, churches wishing to install an alarm can apply to the Archdeacon for a grant of £500 towards installation. This is currently match-funded by the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.
  • In Oxfordshire, churches are encouraged to apply for a grant from the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust, who have recently received extra funding for this purpose from the Allchurches Trust, and will fund up to 50% (to a maximum of £2500) towards installation.
  • There isn’t a specific scheme in place for Berkshire at the present time, though any of the churches in that archdeaconry can apply directly to the Allchurches Trust

Until recently, virtually all thefts required stolen and damaged roofing to be replaced with similar lead, but sometimes permission can be given for almost value-less stainless steel to be used in an effort to reduce the appeal of metal theft.

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For parishes requiring advice and support

Please contact the Diocesan Advisory Committee staff

Resources for parishes

Interviews and filming/pictures of damaged churches:

Steven Buckley Communications Director, steven.buckley@oxford.anglican.org 07771520504
or Liz Hudson, Communications Team, liz.hudson@oxford.anglican.org 07702563211

Notes to Editors:

  • Image of a stripped roof here
  • Most churches are insured by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. Without a roof alarm, type agreed with EIG, pay-outs are capped at around £7500, a fraction of what replacement costs.
  • Many thefts are not noticed immediately because of the rural locations and the first sign can be rainwater pouring in, with whole roofs needing replacement, not just the lead.
  • Local and London Police are aware of the thefts and the systems thieves use. Investigation depends on positive identification and for this, the help of the victim communities is sought.