How ‘champing’ can save Britain’s historic churches

“Champers” at All Saints Church in Aldwincle, Northants

It may not have the glitz of Glastonbury glamping, the privacy of a B&B, or the offer of a minibar in a hotel room.

But the growing popularity of “Champing” – church camping – means more and more historic churches across the country are joining a scheme that allows guests to sleep under bell towers, stained glass windows and historic towers.

The scheme was launched in 2016 by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a national charity that protects endangered churches, and offers guests looking for a quirky place to stay the opportunity to spend the night in listed buildings.

CCT experts described champing as an “innovative way” to attract both Christians and laypeople to the buildings and thus ensure they “didn’t die on our watch”.

Today, visitors can enjoy 18 historic churches across England, from St. Peter’s in Wolfhampcote, a remote 14th-century building in an abandoned village between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, to St. Leonard’s in Old Langho, Lancashire, which was built in the reign of Queen Mary I.

However, CCT revealed its plans for expansion after saying it brought record revenue to the charity last year. It now plans to expand its franchise nationwide, adding at least 12 more churches to its catalog of champions and “laying the groundwork for further expansion in future seasons.”

Ed Cullinane tries Champing at St.  Peter in Wolfhampcote

Ed Cullinane tries Champing at St. Peter in Wolfhampcote

In documents presented before the General Synod, the legislature of the Church of England, the CCT revealed that the past year was “particularly successful”.

He added that champing had its best performance since its launch, generating more than £86,000 in net revenue from almost 600 bookings. It also attracted over 250 CCT members during the same period.

Reverend Canon Timothy Goode, who sits on the CCT’s Board of Trustees, said book clubs, yoga groups and fitness groups are now popular activities held in churches to ensure community cohesion, and the championships are just an extension of that.

“New experience”

“Champing comes entirely from this very Anglican understanding of serving the needs of the whole community and being there for all people,” he said.

“It’s just another way that people are allowed to come and enjoy these buildings, to explore them, and also to have fun because sleeping at night in a very ancient church building.”

The stunning statistics come as the Church of England grapples with declining congregation numbers and struggles to stay in tune with contemporary views on issues such as sexuality.

In November it was revealed that, for the first time in census history, Christians now make up less than half of the population of England and Wales, and last week the bishops refused to support same-sex marriage and instead blessed couples who were already in a civil partnership.

However, Reverend Canon Goode said the CCT’s purpose was “to ensure that these buildings continue to serve the community” despite no longer being used as churches.

“New Christian Community”

He added: “It can actually help to articulate a new story, a new chapter in the life of this church, without knowing what the future might bring.

“It may happen that a new Christian community will arise. Well, that would be great… It could become a place where people do book clubs and do yoga and fitness and stuff, again, that would be great too. All these things make a community. And one of the great Christian callings is to build a loving, thriving community.

“This really is the foundation of the Anglican understanding of community service, and even if a church doesn’t have its own congregation, it still exists to serve the community in different ways and actually give that community some agency.”

Janet Gough, a former CCT Trustee and former Director of Cathedrals and Church Buildings of the Church of England, said: “I think one of the challenges for our generation is that with congregations shrinking, post-covid and that sort of thing, we have to think about more innovative ways to attract people.

“And we, our faith, of course would like to think that things like fighting will encourage people to send some kind of spirituality to the church eventually, but in any case, even if that doesn’t happen, it will mean that our generation keeps these wonderful historic churches and in a sense they do not die on our watch”.

Chana James, a CCT spokeswoman, said: “Champing is a unique way to experience a historic church. Many of our sites are hundreds of years old and lovers can have this ancient site all to themselves for the night.

“Thousands of people have been in our churches since we introduced the concept in 2015 and the feedback we’ve received has been amazing. I’ve been to a few Champing churches myself and can confirm it’s an experience like no other.”

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