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Churches consist of many different types of premises; either in terms of their use; their nature, e.g. modern or historic; or their location, e.g. city, urban, village or remote rural areas; which taken together can lead to some varied, and often complex, security issues.
Churches occupying historic buildings often have valuable fixtures and fittings present and this factor, coupled with a common desire to permit public access and a frequently secluded location, means that they are increasingly regarded by some criminals as a 'soft target' and thus prone to crime.
This Hardfacts outlines some measures that can reduce the risk of theft and vandalism.
What is at risk?
Depending upon the church premises, items at risk inside may include: historic or valuable furniture (pews, tables, chests, etc); fittings (lecterns, lights, brasses, etc); paintings, silverware, cash, computers and audio/visual equipment.
Externally, buildings may incorporate lead or copper (roofing, gutters, down pipes, etc), and have historic or valuable gates, doors and glass - the latter often a target for vandalism.
Subject to its availability, insurance is one means by which financial recompense for losses may traditionally be provided. In this regard you should ensure that:
Note. Historic items can be difficult to value, so a professional valuation is often advisable.
Of course, insurance isn’t a substitute for adequate security and, depending on individual circumstances, may either not be available at all or at economic cost; so let us look at what can be done to protect against theft.
As a first step you should look at your premises and take note of what theft attractive items you have, where they are located, their likely theft attraction and vulnerability, and then consider their replacement value and the possible impact of their loss. You should then consider how they currently are, or might better be, protected.
When considering current/future security it can be helpful to think of ‘layers’ of protection, each layer needing to be overcome by thieves before they achieve their goal. Good security is usually achieved by having a complementary range of security measures in place at each ‘layer’ and overall. .
Note. In the event of theft, careful consideration needs to be given as to whether an item is replaced at all, replaced in smaller quantities, replaced with something less attractive/valuable or, if replaced like for like, is provided with enhanced security. If you don’t consider your replacement strategy in such terms it is likely you will suffer a repeat loss.
1st Layer - Removing/Reducing Attraction
Where practical, the cheapest means of preventing theft can be to remove or reduce the attraction of items likely to interest thieves. For example, by:
Note. Consult your property insurer(s) before replacing any metal roofing with felt or other combustible materials. Planning and other permissions may also be required.
2nd Layer – Human Surveillance
Where nearby ‘neighbours’ live or work within sight or earshot of a church it is worth asking them to inform you or the police of unusual activity. In this regard consider:
Note. Do not underestimate the value of such a simple measure. Many thefts, particularly of lead/copper roofing, have taken place where neighbours have seen the thieves in action and either assumed they were contractors working at the church, or have been told this by the thieves and accepted it.
Note. Damp or ingress of water may indicate unseen theft of or damage to roofing, so should always be promptly investigated.
3rd Layer - Buildings
Thieves generally look for easy pickings, so take steps to make theft more difficult:
Preventing theft of parts of the building
The most common target is lead/copper roofing and related flashing, gutters and down pipes. ‘Hardfacts’ 3019 Metal Theft provides further information, but in particular consider:
Note. To help avoid any legal liability that may otherwise arise, such security measures should be installed above 2.5 m in height, with suitable warning signs displayed.
Preventing theft of items within the building
Many church doors/windows have basic locks or weak construction. ‘Hardfacts’ 3017 Door & Window Security, gives further advice on physical security, but if in doubt seek the advice of a competent locksmith, e.g. a member of the Master Locksmiths Association. In particular ensure that:
Note. Leaded light and other weak/fragile windows are often best secured as ‘other windows’.
Outbuildings that contain attractive items, or things that could aid a break in to the main building, e.g. tools/ladders, should be well secured. Consider:
4th Layer - Electronic Detection
Intruder alarms, and in some situations CCTV, are a good way of deterring or detecting crime.
However, churches can be difficult buildings in which to use electronic security systems, due to their potential for false alarms caused by legitimate visitors, insects, birds, bats, etc, so always seek the advice of a competent installer, e.g. one that is recognised by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) or Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).
Given the increased market that nowadays exists, stand alone roof alarms, often battery powered, have been developed and are fairly readily available.
‘Hardfacts’ 3015 Intruder Alarms - Guidelines for Purchasers and ‘Hardfacts’ 3004 CCTV - Guidelines for Purchasers, provide further advice.
5th Layer - Internal Access
Restrict access to valuable items by:
Note. Consider this with care, as without an intruder alarm thieves may cause undetected and extensive damage in forcing internal barriers open.
Note. Many churches have old safes which look heavy/secure, but which can be an easy target for modern thieves. ‘Hardfacts’ 3014 Cash Security - Theft provides further information.
6th Layer - Recovery
The police recover many stolen items each year, but are unable to return them to their true owners without proof of ownership, so:
Note. In the event of loss, such records can also assist in restoration/establishing values.
Key Action Steps
Sorces of Further Information
Other ‘Hardfacts’ in the Property Protection Security series, which are available in our ‘Knowledge Store’ at www.aviva.co.uk/risksolutions
Master Locksmiths Association (MLA). Tel 01327 262255 or visit www.locksmiths.co.uk
National Security Inspectorate (NSI) - Tel 0845 006 3003 or www.nsi.org.uk
Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) - Tel 0191 296 3242 or www.ssaib.org
Selectamark Ltd. Tel 01689 860757 or visit www.selectadna.co.uk
Smartwater Ltd. Tel 0800 328 6268 or visit www.smartwater.com
The RISCAuthority www.riscauthority.co.uk
Your local police Crime Prevention Unit.
This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.
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