John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport
In plenary on 18 February, I announced that I was asking Cadw to lead in the development of a strategic action plan for places of worship that would address some of the challenges faced by historic places of worship, and guide those responsible for them to plan sustainable futures for valued buildings.
Cadw has now completed the initial scoping work for this plan, which has focused on reviewing the state of knowledge and availability of information, existing support for conservation, and current public engagement activity. As a result of this exercise, I can now provide more detail on the initial findings, and a summary of how the action plan will develop under those 3 headings.
An accessible information base is necessary to support general understanding and appreciation of places of worship, good curatorial practice, and sound development management decisions. There is already a substantial body of information available, for example in statutory list descriptions, on the Royal Commission’s data-base of Welsh chapels, and in the regional historic environment records held by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts. However, an initial review of this information has identified that awareness of existing resources is variable and that some information is too tightly focused. The action plan will therefore focus on improvements to information sources, synthesis of information and the development of a toolkit to support the identification of the value and significance of our heritage assets.
The focus of conservation is caring for buildings, and managing change in order to secure sustainable futures for them. Keeping a building going requires maintenance, repair, an operating budget, access to skilled labour and a community of support. There may also be a need for alteration or adaptation, particularly where additional uses are to be accommodated. To support this process the action plan will include a statement of Conservation Principles tailored to places of worship, will publicise exemplar projects and promote the sharing of best practice, ideas and advice across the denominations.
Public engagement is vital to sustaining historic places of worship in Wales. Raising awareness of their value and encouraging participation in their care are therefore key priorities. There is already a good deal of activity focused on faith tourism, which can bring significant benefits to local communities and the wider economy. The pan-Wales approach to interpretation led by Cadw offers an important resource for the development of faith tourism.
Involvement of local communities is an important component of successful faith tourism, but is also vital to conservation: maintaining, conserving and sustaining buildings for the future will depend on strong communities of support. The action plan will provide a forum and support for promoting faith tourism, the pan-Wales Heritage Interpretation Plan, and community engagement.
My officials in Cadw will now develop a detailed action plan, in collaboration with stakeholders. Continued engagement with our key partners as the action plan develops, so that new ideas and views can be shared and stakeholders can feel some ownership with its development, will be important for its success. I will provide an update on progress in the autumn.