Home » First Catholic church in the Valleys gets share of £1 million grant to fix failing roof 
Community Health History Merthyr Tydfil South Wales

First Catholic church in the Valleys gets share of £1 million grant to fix failing roof 

The roof at St Illtyd’s Church in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales/Cymru has deteriorated at an alarming rate, leading to more and more leaks within the Grade II Listed building and putting the building at risk.  

The slate roof tiles at the church were replaced with asbestos tiles 40 years ago. Sadly, the material reached the end of its life many years ago, with the new tiles losing their coating from the Welsh rains. Until now, the church has not had the funds to be able to replace the tiles. 

The church has been forced to close 1/4 of the church, as the falling debris from the roof damage is a significant health and safety risk. The water is also causing mould and infestation. 

The active congregation of 200 and community activity will dwindle as more of the church is given over to buckets and hazards are roped off. 

The long-term public health consequences of heavy industry – both mining and ironworks – is visible within the town, with Dowlais in the top 10 per cent for poor health in outcomes in Wales. As a result, the local community are disproportionately affected with long-term disability and illness, with lung conditions common.  

There is a need for St Illtyd’s as a warm, safe space – but due to the failing roof, the church was unable to offer their building as a warm space last winter.  

Thankfully help is on hand. The much-loved Welsh church is to share in a £1 million urgent funding pay-out from the National Churches Trust.  

The £200,000 grant will mean the church is able to make urgent repairs to fix the leaking roof. 

Through a partnership with St Illtyd Church, the Wales National Roofing Training Group and Brecon Cathedral, the project will help train NQV Level 3 Heritage Roofing apprentices. They will be able to see first-hand the damage caused to a listed building by using inappropriate materials. This hands-on teaching will help the next generation of roofers understand more clearly the risks and beauty of Wales’ beautiful heritage and how to preserve it. 

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said:  “The National Churches Trust is excited to be able to support St Illtyd Church to enable them to carry out urgent roof repairs. This will safeguard the unique heritage of this historic church and keep it open and in use for the benefit of local people.” 

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“Whether seeking quiet reflection, access to community services or a place to worship, the National Churches Trust helps hundreds of churches each year and with the support of local people, keeps them thriving today and tomorrow.”  

Canon Barry English, parish priest at St Illtyd’s church, said: “We are so grateful to our generous funders. Were it not for their support I don’t know how we would have kept the building open.” 

Archbishop Mark O’Toole, said: “The Archdiocese of Cardiff is grateful to everyone who generously contributed towards the cost of restoring and renovating this important Catholic landmark.” 

The grant will enable the church to replace the failing manmade asbestos roof covering with natural slate. It will also help the church to update the gutters to ensure efficient water runoff and help prevent future water damage.  

St Illtyd Church is a Grade II Listed church, built originally in 1844 and funded by Dowlais Iron works and local miners. It was the first catholic church built in the Valleys. 

The older part of the church is built from rubble stone with Bath stone dressings, the later additions in red brick with terracotta dressings. 

It has a beautiful ornate high alter inside and is blessed with stained glass windows from several different time periods.  

The artwork in the church includes a recent work by Kevin Sinnott, a well-known Welsh painter and depicts the growth of the Church in the Valleys.

The £1 million was made possible thanks to a £500,000 donation from a private donor to the National Churches Trust, the UK’s leading independent charity helping churches, chapels and meeting houses remain open and in use. 

With increasing numbers of churches facing closure, a heritage hero has helped raise £1 million to pay for urgent repairs at 18 historic churches across the UK. The 18 ‘Last Chance Churches’ all had one thing in common: they were in desperate need of funding to keep their buildings open and serving local people.  

This incredible gift led to an outpouring of wider support – with more than a thousand ordinary people, businesses and trusts matching this donation and raising more than £1 million for struggling churches. 

Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, said: “Churches are the beating hearts of communities. It is estimated they provide £55 billion a year in social good. If a church is not weatherproof and watertight, there is only so much they can do. Making vital repairs to these 18 iconic churches means that they will be able to stay open and in use for the benefit of local people. Food banks, warm spaces, community cafes and other vital services that are a lifeline for the community will now be kept open.” 

“All of these churches have communities that depend on them and were desperate to stay open. One of the churches we’ve helped – the oldest Catholic Church in the Valleys – has had to close 25 per cent of its church and can no longer run a warm space due to the failing roof.  This money is making a tangible difference to local communities right across the UK. Every church that is kept open keeps a community alive.”  

“This campaign provides proof that the public think that the UK’s historic churches, the services they provide, and their heritage are worth investing in.” 

Two more Welsh churches were able to be saved, thanks to this pioneering new way of funding. You can read their stories here.

The UK has some of the most historic and beautiful churches, chapels and meeting houses to be found anywhere in the world. But more will close, ripping away vital community services, and destroying local heritage, if urgent action is not taken to fund repairs: 

  • In England, there are now 900 places of worship on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register – with 53 more added in 2023.  
  • In Wales, 25 per cent of historic churches and chapels have closed in the last decade. 
  • The Church of Scotland is actively planning to close as many as 40 per cent of its churches. 

Private philanthropy has an increasingly important role to play in helping to keep historic churches open and in good repair. Thanks to the generosity and imagination of a dedicated supporter of church heritage, we are delighted to pioneer how this can be successfully done through our match-funded ‘Last Chance Churches’ appeal. 

There is an opportunity to generate more private donations through tax relief or other financial incentives. In France, President Macron recently launched a plan to provide €200 million for repairs to historic churches over four years, with new tax incentives that effectively quadruple the value of private giving.  

In the UK, ways to increase private giving to church buildings could include a state matched funding scheme, with the value of donations doubled. 

Sir Philip Rutnam, Chair of the National Churches Trust, said: “The UK’s churches include nearly half our most important historic buildings. At present the burden of caring for this heritage falls almost entirely on local people – the same people who run an astonishing array of community services.  

“This is not sustainable, and it is clear that the future of thousands of buildings will be at risk unless we move quickly to a new approach. Our campaign has shown the potential for match funding and philanthropy to play their part in responding to the growing crisis.  

“We now need the next UK Government to act and introduce a matched funding scheme that galvanises different sources of funding and secures these incredible buildings for the future.” 

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