Council lifts church funding ban for jubilee

St Oswald's Church, Askrigg

Richmondshire District Council has lifted its ban on church groups applying for grants to celebrate Queen’s Platinum Jubilee amid concerns red tape and restrictions have impeded communities from marking the milestone.

A full meeting of the authority saw elected members approve widening its Platinum Jubilee Festivals and Events Fund to allow churches of all denominations to seek grants of up to £2,000.

The move is a clear break from the authority’s well established protocol of not providing grants to church groups on the basis handing public money to them could prove divisive among the area’s communities.

While the four-day bank holiday weekend to mark the jubilee will run from June 2 to 5, the council has stated to qualify for the grant events may take place at any point this year.

However, the council has placed a number of requirements on applicants, such as demonstrating a clear link to the jubilee in terms of theme and activity planning, in order to qualify for funding.

The meeting heard councillors raise concerns that while elected members had explicity asked for the application form to be made as simple as possible numerous groups had struggled with administrative hurdles which were “too difficult to get over”, while others had given up trying to access the funds altogther.

Councillors were told the “ridiculous” application process had seen one Yorkshire Dales community have to get three different quotes for “about £5 of bunting”.

Other parishes had expressed frustration over restrictions about what the money could be used for, with one claiming it had been refused funding to buy a tree to mark the occasion.

Introducing a motion to invite church groups to apply for the funds, Councillor Kevin Foster highlighted that the Queen was the head of the Church of England.

He said: “They are important people in our communities and put a lot on for the communities. They have had a dreadful year with Covid and their funding’s not there, so let’s give them a hand and let them have a go at this funding.”

However, the meeting was told as the Queen was “only the head of one particular church”, providing funds to some churches would be “rather difficult line to tow”.

The authority’s deputy leader, Councillor Helen Grant said since the decision to exclude churches from council funding was made some churches had sought permission from the diocese to change the name of their church hall to “community rooms” to circumvent the ban.

She said: “Other churches and denominations might take that advice if they have a community hall to seek permission to change the name so they can fall into the category to receive funding.”

Councillor Stuart Parsons said while churches would organise services to mark the milestone, they were not usually the groups which organised street parties, which had been the original aim of the fund.

He said: “It wasn’t to enable some formal instutution to organise a formal jubilee function, it was to encourage our residents and communities to get actively involved. If this change goes through it’s totally wrong.”

As members approved extending the grants to churches, the authority’s chairman, Councillor Clive World, said: “The feeling of this meeting is we want to make everything as easy as possible for the people so that they can have an excellent four days.”