Spotlight on successful church fundraising campaigns

23 November 2023

Inspiration from successful fundraising campaigns from churches and cathedrals.

St Paul's Cathedral illuminated from Millennium Bridge.

Cathedrals, churches, and chapels are woven into the fabric of British history - as a tangible presence of our rich heritage they are admired not just by us, but the world over. They are also woven into community life in Britain today, giving a focus and heart to villages, towns and cities.

The conservation and adaptation of church buildings for the twenty-first century, is an ongoing labour of love, as is securing funding for that work. But there are many ways in which churches have done this successfully in recent years. From the grandest of cathedrals to modest village churches, there is a willingness to work in new ways to better serve communities, and in doing so, find success in fundraising.

Here we shine the spotlight on three churches who have taken on different challenges to secure their future and benefit communities through major fundraising efforts. Firstly, St Paul’s Cathedral, with a campaign driven by accessibility; secondly, St John the Evangelist’s Church Ryhall, with a key environmental sustainability mission; and finally, All Saints Old Buckenham, where conserving both rare heritage and involving people with special needs was at the core of their project.

St Paul's Cathedral

In the summer of 2022, St Paul’s Cathedral reopened its magnificent North Transept as a primary entrance once again. Following bomb damage suffered during WW2, the entrance on the Paternoster Square side had remained closed to visitors for decades. But fast forward more than eighty years, and a restored, fully accessible entrance with an elegant ramp of Portland stone, now welcomes both able-bodied and disabled visitors.

The project, named ‘Equal Access’, took several years to develop, but following key donations from trusts, foundations, and individuals, their essential support got it off the ground. With access at its core, trusts and foundations awarded grants so that a more diverse group of people could be fully accommodated in comfort. Heritage-focused funders also supported the project because it did not compromise the aesthetic experience of entering a Wren masterpiece. For fundraising to succeed, St Paul’s took respectful conservation and access design and married it with current day priorities of diversity and inclusion. The North Transept also now plays another important contemporary role – people pass through it, without paying, to reach the ‘Remember Me’ Covid-19 memorial inside the Cathedral.

Over £2million was raised through a public appeal to create a physical Covid-19 memorial within St Paul’s (‘Remember Me’ had initially been an online memorial); the successful completion of the North Transept gave a fitting entrance for those coming to remember lost loved ones.

St John the Evangelist’s Church Ryhall

Raising funds to adapt or restore a church building for modern times is a team effort. But it can also be driven by passionate individuals; they can make a big difference to the momentum of a fundraising drive. For St John the Evangelist’s Church Ryhall, in the county of Rutland, one local hero single-handedly raised £2,000 after completing 100 laps of her village – at age 85. Her amazing efforts (inspired by Captain Sir Tom) joined other local fundraising heroes to raise over £30,000, in under two years. This meant St John’s could close the funding gap and install a new terne-coated stainless steel roof (100% recyclable and with a long lifespan).

Although the church had secured grants of around £120,000 from major funders like Rutland Historic Churches Restoration Trust, they still faced a large funding gap. People rolled up their sleeves and organised events like bake sales, volunteered their time and organised sponsorship activities, all building on each other’s efforts to keep up the fundraising momentum. As well as raising funds, the dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly to restore the churchyard to create a wildlife haven; this in turn created a welcoming space for further fundraising events.

The church had been put on the ‘Heritage At Risk’ register by Historic England, but the installation of the new roof put it back at the heart of the community again, and for generations to come. At the service of dedication on completion of the work, the Bishop of Peterborough acknowledged everyone’s hard work and how by rallying together they reached the target to give new life to St John’s.

All Saints in Old Buckenham

Grade I listed All Saints in Old Buckenham, is one of Norfolk’s most cherished ancient churches. Like St John’s in Ryhall, All Saints was until 2022 on the ‘Heritage At Risk’ register and the important church, dating back to Norman times, could have been lost. Its rare, thatched roof and octagonal tower were in urgent need of repair but it was important to restore it using traditional materials. As modern approaches to conservation supersede ancient materials and methods, the unique heritage of church buildings becomes increasingly more valued. There are only around 100 churches in the UK with thatched roofs[1] and the majority are in East Anglia. So, when All Saints set out to fundraise in 2017 to save its beautiful church, a focus on heritage was key.

First stop on the fundraising journey was to put together a National Lottery Heritage Fund application, and to drive this forward All Saints created the ‘Raise the Roof’ campaign, bringing together an enthusiastic team of passionate local volunteers and supporters. Their work to make sure local people of all ages and backgrounds would benefit from the conservation, led to a successful outcome and a grant of £95,700 from the National Lottery two years later, in 2019. Key to the Lottery’s decision were All Saints plans to involve local people, including pupils and staff from the local primary and special needs schools with whom detective and sensory trail leaflets were created; these give new opportunities for young people and those with special needs to access the building’s features and learn about their use. Plans to deliver walks and talks, and a new church history book, added to the extending of the knowledge of the building’s heritage.

Following the seal of approval from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (the UK’s largest heritage funder) and their grant making up 70% of All Saints’ project costs, other significant grants followed.  These included a Cornerstone grant of £10,000 from the National Churches Trust and a grant from Norfolk Churches Trust. To close the final funding gap, church members and others in the community organised fundraising events, and many individual donations were received.  Happily, after Historic England’s approval, All Saints was taken off the ‘At Risk’ register in 2022, and its future as a Norfolk treasure was secured.