The “Netflix for churches” has been launched in an effort to save historic places of worship from crumbling.
Bosses at the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) have developed a paid streaming platform to address long-term disuse and neglect of Christian sites, with proceeds from the service set to be invested in their preservation.
Heritage experts have billed the new site as a “Netflix-style platform”, which church-admirer Sir John Betjeman “would have loved”. The first production to debut on the streaming service will be a “church crawling” series inspired by the late Poet Laureate.
It is hoped the £3.50 per month subscriptions for the site, named CCTdigital, will help the charitable trust tackle its £5 million annual repair bill and £500,000 maintenance costs for England’s out-of-use historic churches.
Peter Aiers, the chief executive of CCT, said: “If Sir John Betjeman would have made the TV programme ‘A Passion for Churches’ today, we hope that he would have allowed us to stream it on CCTdigital.
“I think this Netflix-style platform is something he would have loved.
“It is a great opportunity for people to share in the joy of historic church buildings and save them at the same time by becoming members.
“So, for people who love churches, history and who follow in that great pastime of Betjeman, ‘church crawling’, CCT Digital.com is the dream streaming platform that they’ve all been waiting for.”
CCT’s new production will follow by example Betjeman’s 1974 BBC programme A Passion for Churches, which led viewers on a tour of Norfolk’s places of worship, while the new streaming site will be modelled on those of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney +.
John Betjamen, the Poet Laureate, pictured in the churchyard of St Bartholomew the Great near his home
Credit: Radio Times/Radio Times
Oxford historian Prof Diarmaid MacCulloch, who presented the BBC series A History of Christianity, will explore the stories behind churches on a tour of sites in Norfolk, Suffolk, Wiltshire, and Oxfordshire.
Prof MacCulloch said the series, Churchcrawls in Solitude, is intended to help protect the nation’s places of worship which are “facing an uncertain future”.
He added: “My hope is that people will love the series we’ve produced together, so much so in fact, that they’ll want to join CCT and help them protect more churches and watch great films in the process.”
CCT has to pay an average of £2,000 for every maintenance visit to each of the 356 – largely still consecrated – sites in its care, which must be protected against problems such as water damage.
A decline in church attendances has meant more sites have fallen out of regular use and have been taken on by CCT, resulting in an increasingly large bill for the charity which faced a £500,000 loss of income during the Covid-19 pandemic.
CCT has warned that the trend of slumping worship leading to more churches needing preservation is likely to continue, and charity bosses hope the “Netflix” for Christian sites will help mitigate the rising repair bill.
Mr Aiers said: “Put simply, more churches are likely to close for regular worship.
“As a nation we have one of the world’s finest collections of historic church buildings that tell the story of a community and place like no other building can – parish churches belong to all of us, regardless of faith.
“As the leading national charity responsible for caring for and conserving our nation’s historic churches, we have never been needed more.
“Our ambition is that CCTdigital.com becomes a place of learning and discovery… and be a part of saving church buildings in the process.”
It hoped CCTdigital.com, set to launch on December 6, will help inspire an interest in church heritage in younger viewers.