11 February 2019
Claire Strachan, Church Buildings Development and Projects Officer

The philosophy of a stitch in time is nowhere better illustrated than in the care of church buildings, and we firmly believe that timely maintenance is enormously important in saving PCCs' money and anxiety in the long term, not to mention the benefit to the building itself.

We have long been advocates of the SPAB’s Maintenance Co-operative project, and it’s predecessor, the Faith in Maintenance campaign, so when we heard that the NCT were developing an online system that claimed to support parishes in the successful completion of small maintenance tasks, we were very keen to promote it. Janet Edmond, the National Churches Trust’s Maintenance Manager, offered to come to the Diocese and run a workshop for PCCs that would explain and demonstrate the website. Brilliant! Where do I sign?

So back in December, on a chilly Monday afternoon, around 40 churchwardens and PCC representatives met at Styvechale church, to meet Janet, and hear about MaintenanceBooker - the new online tool that aims to help PCCs find and rate local contractors for a range of small maintenance jobs and surveys.

MaintenanceBooker does what it says on the tin. It is a competitive tendering system which allows PCCs to request quotes for work from a number of local and national contractors, and choose the most advantageous bid from those who respond. The contractors have been assessed through a tender process and, furthermore, customers are able to rate their selected contractor after the work has been completed which is then visible to future users. And it’s all free to use. Simples.

The afternoon started with a coffee - as afternoons really should - and Janet enthusiastically began to introduce the concept of MaintenanceBooker, and how it can support PCCs in their role. She adeptly explained the registration process and murmurs of interest rippled through the room. Out came the mince pies (for is it really a quality training event without some form of cake?) and we got into the nitty gritty of how the website works, how quotes are requested and received, and how contracts are awarded. Notes were energetically scribbled, and the questions came in thick and fast, all of which were answered with great clarity by Janet.

One of the great benefits of this session, as some of the attendees reported to me afterwards, was the live demonstration of the website which took the group by the hand through the process, step by step, page by page, and click by click. If there is one thing that we have learnt from the introduction of the Online Faculty System – which many dioceses (including our own) have adopted as an electronic way of processing Faculty and List B applications, it is that not everyone is entirely comfortable or confident with working with web-based platforms, and some can even be quite fearful of them. Being able to understand what MaintenanceBooker is, see how it works, and watch the process played out in front of you, was really the crowning glory of the day for many.

The group were also delighted to hear that gutter clearance and some fabric repairs booked through MaintenanceBooker were eligible for a micro-grant up to a value of £500 depending on the scale of the work. Every little helps, as they say.

A number of attendees registered for it immediately, mostly without issue. Brian Cooke, a churchwarden from All Saints Church in Leamington Hastings, explained that “the training was very worthwhile overall and the MaintenanceBooker concept is a good one”, although queried whether contractors can effectively produce a quote for work without visiting the site, and being able to assess aspects that may be slightly ‘out of the ordinary’. This could be of greater concern when more potentially complicated services are added to MaintenanceBooker later this year (namely masonry repairs and lime mortaring). It will be interesting to see how this will be tackled. Numerous attendees have already told me that they will be using the service in the coming months for clearing out their rainwater goods (numero uno on any competent maintenance plan, in my opinion), and I look forward to hearing about how they get on.

From my perspective, here in the Diocesan office, I receive countless telephone calls from PCCs asking for details of good contractors that they can approach to undertake certain projects. Of course, I have details of companies that PCCs have used, but I rarely work directly with contractors, and it is the PCCs themselves that have the day-to-day experience of them.  MaintenanceBooker enables PCCs to find qualified and experienced contractors that have been extensively vetted by the National Churches Trust and 2buy2, and rated by fellow users, which is much more of a recommendation than I could ever give. I have already directed a number of churchwardens to the service who were specifically asking for contractors to undertake asbestos surveys.

Our MaintenanceBooker workshop afternoon was hugely helpful for the PCC representatives who attended, and myself. It equipped them with the practical know-how to use the service, and gave me a better understanding of it so I can spread the word to other parishes. It was a great afternoon, and my gratitude goes to Janet Edmond for providing this event for us. Give her a call; maybe she can help you too.