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Keeping churches secure

Joanna Booth, a consultant on open churches tells us how churches in Preston are working together with their local Police to help increase security at local churches.

Preston ChurchWatch

Following a spate of thefts of collection boxes and roof lead from rural churches, Preston ChurchWatch was initially set up not only to reduce crime but also to support those isolated and vulnerable churches that still wished to open their doors, unattended, on a daily basis. A truly innovative scheme, ChurchWatch is a partnership between churches and the local Neighbourhood Policing Team to encourage vigilance and communication between individual churches and the police.

The way it works is astonishingly simple, but it’s a real two-way process. Each church that wishes to take part nominates a single point of contact and the scheme works via an e-mail system whereby the police contact the named person with daily crime bulletins for their area, information on keeping their church safe and details of meetings that may be of interest to them. For example, if the police know of any travelling criminals who are targeting churches or of any burglaries in churches elsewhere in Preston they immediately pass on information regarding possible vehicle details or descriptions of people who may have taken part in the crime via e-mail.

In the same way, should any suspicious activity be noted in or around a church the contact can immediately alert the police who will, within minutes, circulate details to every church in the scheme. This helps to build intelligence in respect of crimes committed around churches and a network of communications intended to prevent / detect crime and build safer communities. It’s also led to a few arrests!

On joining the scheme each church is given an Information Pack and a prominent sign to display outside the church as well as other crime prevention equipment such as window alarms, panic alarms and timed security light switches.

In addition to providing free SmartWater kits, the police have also part-funded the installation of CCTV cameras in churches in the scheme. Local businesses have then taken it upon themselves to fund additional surveillance cameras for other buildings in their village. By contributing regular articles to be included in church magazines and providing a weekly bulletin to be read out during church services, the police are now able to engage with entire church congregations - often those isolated, elderly and vulnerable people that would otherwise be hard to reach.

 “Whole villages are now becoming more vigilant. ChurchWatch has strengthened community spirit so that everyone works together to protect their area” says PC Chris Banks who started the scheme, “It’s the church that is now protecting the village”. When asked about the impact of the scheme Chris was delighted to report that in the two years since ChurchWatch began there has not been a single church-related crime in the area.

For more information about ChurchWatch contact PC Chris Banks or ring Broughton Police Station - 01772 863 390

Preston ChurchWatch Case Study: The Fellside Team

Revd. Stephen Cooper is Team Vicar in the Fellside Team, a group of 5 rural churches which are all part of the Preston ChurchWatch scheme.

When he arrived five years ago only three of the churches were regularly open, but now they are all open daily, unattended. Stephen firmly believes that church buildings belong to and should be available to the community they serve. A locked church belongs just to the congregation. Throughout his ministry he has always had the confidence to operate an open door policy, and notes that EIG insures churches to be open as places of prayer and worship, not locked. In his experience the most effective security for a church is being open because of the people popping in to visit!

The two churches that were initially closed have now had CCTV installed, and risk is managed by taking sensible precautions such as locking away valuables. The ChurchWatch scheme has made congregations more aware and more confident in being open and in sharing their churches with whoever wishes to visit.
Stephen believes that our rural churches are ‘Holy Wells’ - places of sanctuary, prayer and welcome. Being welcoming is itself an act of love and a sign of a loving church. People come to holy wells to do business with God whether on a daily, weekly or intermittent basis. It is important for people to know that they will be open to them if and when they need them.

“To be welcome, open and loving means that there is a risk, but that’s a risk worth taking if our churches are to be what they are meant to be,” says Stephen. ”Even if something bad happens, we should still keep our churches open, otherwise their use is lost and the ‘bad guys’ win. Love demands better than that.”
He reported that there has been only one incident in the past five years and none since belonging to ChurchWatch.

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Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.