Lead thefts at Norfolk churches halve after launch of innovative scheme

Roof Alarm Scheme: From left to right: DC Andy Brown, The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Jame

Roof Alarm Scheme: From left to right: DC Andy Brown, The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk Lorne Green and The Revd Canon Tony Billett. Picture: Diocese of Norwich. - Credit: Archant

Incidents of lead theft at Norfolk's churches have halved in the past two years, thanks to an innovative security scheme to protect against roof raiders.

It had been hoped that 50 alarms could be installed on some of the county's most vulnerable churches as part of the Roof Alarm Scheme, which is backed by the Eastern Daily Press.

But at least 70 churches now have them since the scheme was launched by the Diocese of Norwich.

More than £250,000 was raised through a partnership between the former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James; Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green; Allchurches Trust; the Norfolk Churches Trust and the Round Tower Churches Society.

Now, figures released by Norfolk Police show the number of church lead theft incidents has dropped from 48 in the two years before the scheme was launched to 26 in the two years since.

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The Archdeacon of Norfolk, the Venerable Steven Betts, said: "The partnership with the Police and Crime Commissioner and other donors means the vast majority of our vulnerable churches are now protected by alarms.

"This not only provides reassurance for the communities in which the churches are located but also helps to reduce crime and the threat of crime.

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"My hope and prayer would be that the alarms simply would not be necessary, but unfortunately they are and have been very effective in helping to protect churches to ensure they remain welcoming centres in their towns and villages."

Raids can result in churches being unable to practically serve their local community, and affect activities such as parent and toddler groups and foodbanks from being able to meet.

Mr Green said when the scheme was launched his "blood boiled" whenever he heard a church had been targeted, and he felt as passionate to this day.

He said: "It is reassuring to hear that since the scheme was launched the police have recorded a near 50pc drop in reports of lead theft, however this does not mean we should rest on our laurels.

"We must do all we can to prevent these sacred places being targeted, including by equipping as many as possible with vital alarm systems to prevent such crime and protect our local communities."

Praise for scheme

Leaders of churches targeted by raiders have praised the Roof Alarm Scheme.

The Revd Mark Capron, from St Nicholas Church in Dersingham, said: "We would like to say thank you to everyone who contributed to the scheme. Having a roof alarm gives our church and the wider community a great deal of reassurance that these vital services can continue and that the church will always be an open welcoming space in the community for the community."

The Revd Andrew Whitehead Team Vicar in the Aylsham and District Team Ministry said: "The roof alarm at Cawston Parish Church gives the community peace of mind. The consequences of a potential lead theft on such an important medieval building would be devastating; partly because of the amazing art and artefacts within the building but also because the church is in regular use by the community for worship and community events."

How the community can help

Members of the public have been urged to help protect more churches across the county by donating money to the Raise the Alarm scheme.

To contribute to the scheme fill out the donation form or send cheques made payable to Norfolk Community Foundation, ref: Raise the Alarm to Norfolk Community Foundation, St James Mill, Whitefriars, Norwich NR3 1TN.

Alternatively those who want to help provide funds for the scheme should visit https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/raisethealarm to make donations via the Virgin Money page.

Meanwhile, police have also urged communities to do their bit to keep churches safe. Chief Inspector Craig Miller said: "I'd also appeal to communities to act as our eyes and ears and make a note of any suspicious activity. Don't ignore anything that you think looks out of place."

- Call police on 101 or if you see a crime in progress dial 999.

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