BY JAMES PENN
A GLIMMER OF HOPE for Britain's churches, which spend most of their life under lock and key because of vandals, was offered earlier this week with the initiation of the Open Churches Trust. The organisation, sponsored through a Elm donation by composer Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, intends to increase access to churches of outstanding architectural merit by paying for people to supervise them outside service times. The eighth commandment, "Thou shalt not steal", has been more honoured in the breach than the observance in the recent past, and churches have had to close their doors to avoid wholesale pillaging. The Open Churches Trust will open them up again to the public and parishioners at regular times each week. Sir Andrew thought up the idea for the trust after going to Macclesfield for a wedding. One spare morning he decided to go off and look at some of the local Anglican churches, only to find they were all closed. The only church open was the Catholic Cathedral, and shortly afterwards that was robbed of all of its Pugin treasures. The Trust, which will begin by opening up 18 churches in London, Suffolk and Liverpool, kicked off in a fanfare of publicity at St James, the Less, on Vauxhall Bridge Road in London last Monday. The launch was attended by numerous churchsupporting if not church-going luminaries, including the Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, and author and broadcaster, Melvyn Bragg.
"I have no specialist interest in the architecture but I like to see churches open. So many are closed because of vandalism these days," Mrs Boothroyd said.
Mr Bragg, who is trustee and who, like Sir Andrew, was brought up in the Church of England, told the Catholic Herald: "Andrew suggested it to me and I thought, 'What a good idea'. I hope it will give to a lot of people pleasure, solitude or the chance of prayer. "Two or three times I've been to churches in my native Cumberland and been locked out. I feel it shouldn't be like that. If anything should be open then it's a church. It all stems back to the concept of sanctuary." Sir Andrew, who was educated at nearby Westminster School and who remembered St James the Less as a staunch Tractarian church, told the Catholic Herald: "Nicholas Pevsner, when writing his book on English churches, said if they continued to shut, his task was worthless. This is all about trying to encourage people to keep them open. A lot of communities forget what they've got in their side "I can think of 20 churches in I .ondon which would stagger people if they went inside."