As with all old churches, St Botolph’s church in Limpenhoe, Norfolk has a variety of restoration projects to fund and this is in addition to ongoing maintenance. Raising funds is particularly challenging at a time when inflation is running high and there are many other cost of living pressures on us all. It is therefore necessary to consider novel ways to raise money and to embrace fundraising methods which don’t just involve appealing to individuals to donate money.
A year ago most of us in our parish had not even heard of champing. Our church was facing a decision as to how to proceed with respect to continuing to offer services in the church. We had set up a Friends Group to try and support the activities of the church, to encourage community involvement, and to try and raise funds and we were looking for fundraising opportunities. It was a casual conversation one day with a parishioner from a nearby church who mentioned champing that set us thinking. Champing™ is the unique concept of camping overnight in historic churches, brought to the world by The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), the national charity protecting historic churches at risk. Information on champing is available at https://champing.co.uk/
We contacted the champing team at the CCT and they provided us with helpful advice on how to start setting things up in order to be able to provide champing in our church. Initially we had concerns about how the concept would be viewed by members of the clergy and by parishioners but in practice everyone was very supportive right from the start. There are not too many absolute requirements with respect to regulations but we made sure that our insurance company was aware we were offering champing, we reviewed our safety protocols for the church and we installed smoke alarms. We made sure our regular checks such as electrical safety were up to date.
At the start we were unsure what take up we would get, and I think many of us were doubtful if it would really be something that would attract much interest and so we were reluctant to invest a lot of money. We were very lucky to have such supportive members of the Friends Group and we managed to borrow most of the major items we required to get going. We started with 4 camp beds, blankets, cushions, and a table for eating with 4 comfortable camping chairs and we set these up in the chancel area of the church where there is adequate room. Champers bring their own sleeping bags but we provide them with hot water bottles in case they are cold (although over the summer months I don’t think anyone has needed to use these). We provide bowls, plates and cutlery and a kettle with tea, coffee and hot chocolate making facilities. We are fortunate in having a village hall just a stone’s throw away from the church and the village hall committee have allowed us to use their toilet facilities for the champers. During the stay the champers have exclusive use of the church and we provide them with two very nice old keys to the large doors to the church along with a key to the village hall. Thankfully these keys have been well looked after by all the champers! Dogs are welcome and we offer a reduced rate for children staying with an adult during the school holidays.
We started to offer champing at St Botolph’s in May. Between May and September we have had 17 bookings with parties of various sizes up to 4 people and it is fair to say the number of bookings has exceeded our expectations. This has contributed significantly to our fundraising and of course also provides funds for the Churches Conservation Trust. It involves voluntary work from members of our Friends Group but this is manageable and we plan to continue to offer champing in the future. We are open to champers throughout the winter and into next year but are not yet certain what take up there will be during the cooler winter months.
Feedback from the champers has been overwhelmingly positive. We have had a variety of different people champing from many different walks of life and it clearly appeals to a diverse range of individuals and groups. In the future we plan to improve our offering in order to make the experience for our champers even more comfortable and interesting, and for example we are considering providing breakfast hampers.
The champing team at the CCT are very supportive and they organise all the bookings and provide regular information to us on bookings and are always on hand if we have any problems.
In conclusion we can definitely say that the initiative has been a very positive experience for us. The champers have enjoyed their stays, the church has benefited from the income and we have contributed to fundraising for the CCT. A winning formula for everyone!
The Friends of St Botolph’s Church, Limpenhoe, NR13 3JB https://www.abychurches.co.uk/