Help for churches in fight with lead thieves

St Nicholas Church, in Chadlington after a lead theft. The lead has been rolled up and thrown down to the ground leaving the structure and contents of this Oxfordshire church protected only by bare boards. NNL-161018-164932001

St Nicholas Church, in Chadlington after a lead theft. The lead has been rolled up and thrown down to the ground leaving the structure and contents of this Oxfordshire church protected only by bare boards. NNL-161018-164932001

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Lead thefts at more than 20 churches in Oxfordshire this year has seen the launch of an appeal to give churches the means to fight back.

The Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust (OHCT) has launched its Alarms for Churches Appeal to help villages and local communities install alarm systems to protect their church roofs.

The appeal aims to cover half the cost involved in installing an electronic alarm system, up to £2,500 per church.

OHCT’s trustees are guaranteeing to pay this for the first 12 churches which apply and are appealing urgently to the public for more funds so that all the most vulnerable churches can be helped.

Churches in the Banbury area which have been hit by lead thieves since the middle of the year include St Giles, in Wigginton; St Mary the Virgin, in Chipping Norton; St Nicholas Church, in Chadlington (twice); St Peter, in Drayton; St Michael, in Great Tew (three times); St Andrew, in Kingham; St Mary, in Souldern; All Saints, in Spelsbury; Holy Trinity Church, in Shenington and St Mary, in Lower Heyford.

Rev Dr John Reader is rector of the Ironstone benefice, which includes St Peter Church, in Drayton, and Holy Trinity Church, in Shenington. Both churches have been targeted by lead thieves this year, St Peter in March and Holy Trinity in September.

Rev Reader said: “Many of my churches haven’t got huge reserves and depend on how much they get from the insurance, but most insurance companies now refuse to insure beyond a limited sum because it is happening so often.

“The insurance we would get for Shenington would nowhere near cover the cost of replacing the lead. It is a real financial problem.”

There is an alternative to lead for church roofs called terne coated steel, but its use is the subject of debate.

Advantages to using steel include it being less attractive to thieves and cheaper than lead.

Rev Reader said: “Historic England have relented and have agreed churches can replace stolen lead with alternative materials and a lot of other diocese have already gone down that route.”

OHCT have estimated it can cost churches up to £100,000 to replace stolen lead.

Trust chairman, Basil Eastwood, said: “If a suitable alarm is not installed most church insurance policies will only pay the first £7,500 of a claim when the lead is stolen.

“Churches and chapels may feel they cannot afford the cost of these alarms but if they are attacked local people are faced with massive repair bills”.

The alarms are being provided by E-Bound.

Any churches wanting to apply should email Eluned Hallas at ohct@hallas.org.uk. To donate send a cheque, payable to OHCT, to the Development Officer, OHCT Roof Alarm Appeal, The Knoll, Chiselhampton, Oxon, OX44 7XA.

OHCT gives £200,000 a year in grants to Oxfordshire churches and chapels.