Unprecedented GRP roofing installation on Grade I listed church stops lead theft

Unprecedented GRP roofing installation on Grade I listed church stops lead theft

Hambleside Danelaw believes that a major precedent has been set for churches and other historic buildings by the first ever installation of a modern glass reinforced polyester (GRP) roofing system on a Grade I listed English church.

They hope it could help many other churches and heritage buildings blighted by the current lead theft epidemic or by other forms of roofing damage. The British manufacturer of the roofing system also believes that the installation will do much to counter the outdated image of ‘cheap’ fibreglass alternatives for roofing repairs.

Plagued by no less than seven incidences of lead theft from its roof since April last year despite having anti-climb paint and motion sensors, St John the Baptist (Church of England) Church in Bromsgrove was forced to look at alternative roofing materials when faced with an unaffordable lead replacement bill of £275,000 and no further opportunities to make a claim on its insurance.

The church opted for the Dryseal component-based GRP system manufactured in the UK by Hambleside Danelaw, a roofing products company that has previously won a Queen’s Award for Innovation and received an environmental award from David Cameron.

The church’s decision was initially met with strong opposition at many levels in the statutory approvals process for a Grade I listed building, but eventually an application to Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester led to approval being given to repair the north and south aisle roofs on the building which dates back to the 11th century.

Work on the GRP roofing installation which began before Christmas 2011 is now complete and the church is delighted with the results, knowing that that there is no sell-on value for criminals in the new material.

Commenting on the Dryseal GRP system, the Reverend Chris Wingfield, Priest-in-Charge at St John’s, said: "It looks like lead; it's got longevity and it will save this church for generations to come.

“We had to fight our corner, but we were caught between a rock and a hard place. It was not cost-effective to use lead or terne-coated steel. English Heritage see lead as the best product, but in the current financial situation, you need to use the most cost-effective material.”

GRP much less expensive than lead but not a ‘cheap’ material
The church spent £51,000 to replace the roofs with Dryseal rather than the £275,000 it would have needed to raise to use lead.

The advice behind the ground-breaking specification came from Geoff Stollard, a local construction consultant by profession and a member of the St John’s choir, chair of the fabric committee and the project lead.

For St John’s, Geoff Stollard said: “Lead theft is not a victimless crime. The victims are the church congregations at the heart of their communities, working hard to keep historic buildings open for worship and available to serve the areas where they live in a whole variety of ways. Coping with one theft of a church roof is disheartening; coping with successive thefts, as is often the case, is heartbreaking. Installing a modern GRP roofing system puts a stop to this.

"Everyone at St John’s is extremely positive about the outcome and the quality of the work has been commended as being to the highest standards achievable with attention to detailing exemplary.

“The active co-operation of Hambleside Danelaw throughout the project was also asked by the Reverend and the church wardens to be placed on record and in particular the support provided by John Godley and Andy Fell through regular inspections of the site.”

Hambleside Danelaw maintain that this precedent means that the perception of all fibreglass materials as ‘cheap’ should be consigned to history.

Commenting on modern GRP, Chris Avery, the company’s managing director, said: “‘Cheap’ is a strange term for a material where the raw material prices can exceed £4,000 per tonne, whereas materials typically used within ‘plastics’, so readily accepted into our everyday life, cost considerably less.”

The company points out that the versatile modern GRP material offers an excellent service life, strength and eventual recyclability. In comparison with other materials, it can be light in weight, translucent or opaque, and carefully profiled to match other building materials such as metal profiles. To achieve that though, the manufacturing investment cost for producing pre-cured GRP as roofing profiles, flashings or cladding is considerable and is a world away from the perceived ‘bucket and brush’ approach so often associated with GRP.

Chris Avery added: “GRP is a competitive material providing excellent solutions for the building industry and our customers. It involves a high quality, sophisticated manufacturing process resulting in a product which can have a service life in excess of 50 years. Our Dryseal GRP roofing system is therefore very durable and can look identical to lead or copper.

“We are extremely proud that St John the Baptist Church chose Dryseal as the solution to prevent further thefts from this historic building. The church’s leaders should be saluted for fighting a 6-month battle to secure the cost-effective GRP alternative to lead. GRP should now be permitted for other listed churches.”

Hambleside Danelaw has campaigned for a more pragmatic approach towards GRP from the heritage and church bodies in response to the lead theft epidemic and one of its local MPs, George Hollingbery, who was recently elected to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, has raised the issue in the House of Commons.

Information about Dryseal GRP can be found here

Information about St John the Baptist Church, Bromsgrove, can be found here

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