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World News

Financial challenges lead to fears over church closures in Wigan

by Donna Birrell

There are fears that some churches in Wigan could be closed after a buildings review found that some parishes in the area are not financially viable.

The Right Buildings Review, which began in December 2022 and will end in December 2023, says that about £1 million a year is spent on church buildings in the Diocese of Liverpool and that resources are being stretched unsustainably. The review in Wigan is part of a wider diocesan assessment of all its buildings, including churches and halls.

Review team leaders Cliff Unsworth and Michelle Prior said :

“What I find really encouraging as the team go through the assessment process, is the way we have been welcomed and accepted at the building survey visits we have completed so far. We are encouraged that even though this a difficult process, we truly believe that Church Wigan worship communities are behind us and that God is alongside us...Hard decisions will have to be made but, to leave a sustainable legacy to future generations, we must get on and do it now.”

The review is running alongside the Diocese of Liverpool’s evaluation of its  Transforming Wigan (TW) project, the first large-scale change management project funded through the Church Commissioners Strategic Development Fund (SDF).

The evaluation shows that the project highlighted that it hadn’t been able to solve the deep financial challenges it inherited. The Diocese of Liverpool says that TW was unable to halt the decline in church attendance across the deanery and observed a steady decline of 8.8 per cent up until the pandemic, after which there was steep decline when churches closed. There has also been significant change in the way clergy work.

However, it says it has achieved great progress in creating local teams and helping mission across the town. It said that Transforming Wigan was ambitious, particularly in its aim to turn round the finances of the deanery. It recognises the ongoing financial burden of old buildings is being tackled through the Right Buildings review and commented the new structures through establishing the charitable Wigan Deanery Trust have made Church Wigan financially more efficient.

The Diocese of Liverpool says that the seven year TW project, which ended in 2021, had been successful in establishing 63 worship communities in schools and the community and engaging over 12,656 people in missional activities. However, it said there remains a “significant financial challenge”, including the impact of Covid on the finances of many churches.

It’s feared up to 19 churches in the area could close because of the financial challenges.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Liverpool said:

"Making decisions about church buildings is difficult, but we owe it to future generations to address this now.

"The reality is, we cannot afford to maintain and invest in all our church buildings and so I'm grateful for the careful and respectful assessment and look forward to discussing it with church congregations, neighbours and partners in due course, so that we may have the right buildings for the future."



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