Making alternatives a material consideration

I saw the piece about metal theft and St Nicholas Church on the Boston Standard website and would like to point out to your readers a few key facts about the case.

It is disheartening to know that St Nicholas has been the constant target of metal thieves and we are fully aware of the difficulties the church faces in dealing with the problem.

The church approached English Heritage in 2008 for advice on replacing the south aisle roof with an alternative material and our advice then was to ask them to prepare the crucial information needed by the local authority to consider the case, such as frequency of attack and an assessment of the efficiency of safety and deterrent measures.

More recently, they approached us for advice on changing the vestry roof to temporary felt, and our view was that this should be considered and decided by the Diocesan Advisory Committee, in accordance with the new English Heritage guidance note ‘Theft of metal from church buildings’ (September 2011).

At no point did we say ‘no’ to the possibility of changing to an alternative material.

Moreover, decisions about changes to the external appearance of a church are made by the Diocese and in some cases the local authority.

In general, our guidance encourages the use of authentic materials, but it also makes clear the conditions under which alternative materials can be considered and used by local authorities and owners on a case by case basis.

In view of the intensification of metal theft in some parts of England we have recently revised the guidance to help churches respond to the problem more pragmatically.

It states that ‘English Heritage will consider supporting the replacement of stolen lead with an alternative material after one incidence of theft if it is satisfied that security measures are unlikely to prevent further attacks, and if the proposed alternative material is suitable in terms of technical performance and appearance’.

The guidance note is downloadable from


English Heritage