Assessing the support for a cherished landmark
St Mary's Church, Bloxham
“Action Planning’s recommendations were spot on and Sean’s presentation to the PCC by Zoom was very thorough. Their report passed the ‘bucket of cold water in the face’ test (plainly communicating the additional work needed to give the project the best chance of success) and it was helpful to have a third party telling us the things we need to address. I would certainly envisage communicating with Action Planning on further work.”
Ian Myson, Project Co-lead, St Mary’s Church Bloxham
St Mary’s Church in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, is a magnificent Grade I listed church. It has been a central feature of the local community for a thousand years and its 198 foot spire dominates the skyline. For about a decade, plans to improve the interior of the church have been evolving. These include the addition of much needed toilets, a kitchen, upgraded heating system and more flexible seating, with a view to making the church “more flexible for worship and more usable by the community”. During this time a significant interregnum put the project on pause for 18 months. On starting up again, it was clear that the church needed professional support in putting together a realistic fundraising strategy to raise the £1.5million required for the project.
One of the the project’s co-leads, Ian Myson, attended an Action Planning Church Capital Appeals workshop, run in partnership with the Oxford Diocese, following which they asked us to pitch against one other organisation for the feasibility study. We were selected on the basis of our resource base and range of services, our modular approach and the fact that they, in Ian’s words, “warmed to the people more”.
Action Planning was asked to carry out a fundraising feasibility study and recommend a fundraising strategy for the appeal.
We put our Church Capital Appeals team of David Saint and Sean Tully on the case, with a schedule of six weeks to deliver our report. We carried out an assessment of the case for support, scoring it 6 out of 10 overall, with important work to be done in clarifying and communicating the benefits and beneficiaries of the project.
We conducted face-to-face research among the congregation to gauge the level of support for the project, understand the concerns and objections, and assess the level of individual giving that could be estimated towards the overall target.
We then looked into possible grant funding sources, identifying 38 in all, and applied our tried and tested methodology to produce low, medium and high estimates of the potential sums achievable from these sources. Our report listed eight separate sources of income for the project, with low, medium and high estimates of their overall totals.
With the medium estimate falling below 50% of the project target, the next task was to devise an action plan that would address the weaknesses in the project and raise the level of potential giving that could be expected, while advising adjustments to the project plan to bring it within more realistic reach, eg splitting the fundraising into two phases: essentials and ‘nice to haves’.
We delivered our report after six weeks, overlapping the start of the coronavirus lockdown, which forced certain assumptions to be included in our recommendations. Nevertheless, we were able to provide St Mary’s project team and PCC with a much clearer understanding of the feasibility of their plans and a route map for carrying the project forward.
Despite the uncertain climate in which the report was delivered, and its effect on the timing of the fundraising campaign, our assessment and recommendations were well received. In particular, the two-phase fundraising recommendation was taken on board, along with our advice to put more effort into communicating with the congregation and to make more of the church’s heritage, which could open up numerous additional funding sources. Plans were immediately progressed for the new heating system, so work would be ready to begin as soon as the lockdown was lifted.
It is easy to imagine that the most important factor in a church capital development project is the church building itself. Its location, its history, its potential for redevelopment. In our experience, this is only ever a part of the story.
Yes, St Mary’s the church building has its own stories to tell, from both the past and present. But the potential of a project like this hangs on its ability to connect with a vision that is rooted in the wider community of both the present and the future. The Project Team at St Mary’s already had a good understanding of this fact, but seemed to be struggling to identify all the connecting points. Andrew and I were able, as ‘outsiders’, to spot those connections and identify the factors that might move the project from vision to reality.
The way that Ian and Jon received our report, and have so quickly adapted the plans in the context of the coronavirus lockdown in order to maintain momentum, gives us confidence that this project will move forward under strong, focused leadership.