Churches urged to take steps to prevent arson

Churches urged to take steps to prevent arson

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Specialist insurer Ecclesiastical has issued guidance to churches to help prevent arson and the devastating impact it can have on a church and the community it serves.

Arson poses a major security challenge for churches. Fires are often started by arsonists, or by thieves concealing their crime, and sadly, churches are often viewed as a soft target.

In 2017 the Grade II listed Church of the Ascension in Salford, Greater Manchester was the victim of an arson attack which caused significant damage to columns, roof structures, stone and brickwork and stained glass windows – devastating the local community.

The £5m project to restore the 150 year-old church is drawing to a close with the last phase, the internal restoration, due to be completed early this year – however the scale and complexity of the restoration shows how important it is for churches to take steps to prevent being victims.

Ecclesiastical Insurance’s risk experts have developed steps that churches can take to help manage the risks of arson attack.

Church of the Ascension under repair

Church of the Ascension

How to reduce the risk of arson attacks at your church premises

  • Practice good housekeeping: Keep internal doors shut and locked when not in use, this can slow the spread of fire through a building and prevents access to obscure areas. Safely store items that could start fires inside the church, for example portable heaters and matches, and move bins away from the outside of the building. Take particular care when building or maintenance projects are being undertaken, ensuring building materials and waste are stored safely, securely and well away from the building.
  • Keep your church secure: At night lock your church doors, windows, and any external gates. Installing security lights and keeping the exterior well lit will deter intruders. Also, consider installing fire alarms, intruder alarms and CCTV that provides continual monitoring to an alarm-receiving centre.
  • Report suspicious activity and make your church look busy: Use the building as much as possible for church and community activities.
  • Carry out regular external inspections of your church buildings and grounds: Make regular checks to the building and report damage to the police and your insurers as soon as possible. Cut back vegetation on a regular basis.
  • Repair damage to the church immediately: A damaged building is at risk of further attacks, including arson. Ensure any damage is repaired and graffiti removed quickly.
  • Use candles safely in church: Site votive candle stands away from combustible items, such as curtains, and store paper for prayer requests away from the candle stands.
  • Check your fire extinguishers: Check you have enough fire extinguishers including some that are water (hydro-spray) or carbon dioxide types.
  • Be prepared for fire: Keep up-to-date fire risk assessments for your premises. Consider ways in which deliberate fires could be started and how you can prevent or reduce the risk.

Jo Whyman, risk management director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “While arson attacks are not frequent they do still happen and can lead to the total loss of properties.

“Churches are legally required to carry out a fire risk assessment and in doing so they’ll be able to understand the risk of fire – including the risk of an arson attack. It is really important that steps are taken to prevent fires and by following our guidance on fire risk management at your church you can help to reduce the risk of arson at your property.

“Our Risk Management team are on hand to assist our customers and bespoke guidance and support is available through our Risk Advice Line as well as general guidance available on our website.”

For a full list of the guidance please visit