10th Year Anniversary Interview – Crispin Truman OBE

10th Year Anniversary Interview – Crispin Truman OBE

Crispin Truman OBE was a founding member of FRH and remains a member of the FRH Founder’s Circle. He is also formerly a trustee at The Heritage Alliance and was the chief executive of the Churches Conservation Trust. He now serves as a Chief Executive in the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) since 2017.

In honour of FRH’s 10th year anniversary, we’ve conducted an interview with Crispin to reflect on the achievements that the FRH has made since its founding, what he sees for the future of the network, and how the religious heritage sector can work towards the sustainability goals of the EU Green Deal.


What does religious heritage mean to you?

I see religious heritage in a very wide sense, although one consistent defining factor is evidently the physical fabric: a building, fittings and features which have beauty and meaning over time.  For me, the physical aspects of heritage are defined by the way they stand the test of time: something which looks beautiful even when it has been subjected to the ravages of nature and of human use.  Beauty is, of course, to some extent in the eye of the beholder, but if something doesn’t weather well I don’t think it qualifies for the label of ‘heritage’.

The place of religious heritage in the landscape – whether countryside or city – is also key.  We often say that a spire, tower, dome or cupola is the focus of a place and to some extent defines the wider local culture and aesthetic. I think that matters a lot.

But as we all know, religious heritage isn’t just physical.  History, the religious and spiritual element whether all-pervading or more residual, is vital.  A religious building that has been completely converted to a new use and which has lost any spiritual function whatsoever is no longer religious heritage in my mind.  That’s why I loved our work at the Churches Conservation Trust in England: we took historic churches which were deemed to have no further use, we revived them through conservation, regeneration, community and other secular activities, but they always remained consecrated, we always told the story of their religious function and we welcomed back worshippers as part of their new use.

Conversely, the place of religious heritage in the community, and a wider social and even economic function in local life is for me equally vital.  I’m obviously influenced by my own personal experience of Anglican parish churches, but perhaps controversially I feel that religious heritage has to have that place in and meaning for the wider community in which it sits, for it to be complete.

As you can see, it’s quite a subjective thing once you get into it!


What is one of the biggest challenges facing religious heritage?

In my experience, it is the combined effect of the opposite forces of society and the state becoming more secular, while religious institutions and religious communities become perhaps more exclusive and sometimes inward-looking.  Church buildings in particular fall down the growing gap between the two.


What is one of the best ways we can protect religious heritage?

By reviving their historic role as a resource for the wider community, a part of all our heritage and an asset for learning and understanding.  We need to remove the threshold fear which many people and secular organisations have which leads to religious heritage too often being left out of discussions about the future development of a place and community.  And we have to be open to a wide range of sympathetic and complementary uses which keep the buildings open to the public.

FRH’s role in this is to build a network across Europe – with representatives from every country – which can share learning and good practice, provide mutual support, build a strong agenda for the future of religious heritage, and collaborate and promote it to the public and policymakers.


How do you see FRH in the next 10 years?

I love FRH and feel a strong sense of belonging even though I am in a different job now (which is concerned with the wider issues of landscape and rural life in England).  That’s partly because I had such fun, discussed fascinating issues and got to know so many wonderful people and places during my involvement – I miss it!

The defining feature of FRH is that it brings together practitioners and policymakers from a wide range of disciplines, it is for people of all faiths and for those with none, and it is about solutions that promote the use and a deep respect for the building and its history.  Those principles are as important now as they were when we set it up.

I feel strongly that FRH has an even more important role than it did when we founded it 10 years ago.  That’s not just because religious heritage is even more vital to the healthy development of our communities, our landscapes and our society in a time of change and disruption, but also because of its internationalist approach and the fact that it brings us together across Europe.  We never dreamt when we set it up in 2011 that Britain would be leaving the EU, now that it has we in civil society need to do all we can to build relations across borders. As we know, religious heritage, its history, the people, materials, designs and indeed the religions all crossed borders in the past.  The present and future threats – and solutions – are also shared.

And of course, FRH is about strength in numbers!


 How can the religious heritage sector align with, and contribute to, the objectives of the Green New Deal?

Heritage and religious heritage is all about renewal, reuse and recycling.  You couldn’t get more green and we need to shout loudly about it.  I feel there is still too much of a gap between the ‘green’, environmental movement and the heritage movement.  We all have the same goals and concerns and we need to be working together.

One thing I’d like to be much more involved in is the European Landscape Convention of the Council of Europe.  I think that captures perfectly the integration of the built and natural environments, heritage and green issues together.  Let’s use that as one of the tools to unite our causes.


Is there anything else you would like to highlight?

The vision for the organisation which I run now – CPRE The countryside charity – is for a “beautiful, thriving countryside that enriches all our lives”.  It’s hard to imagine that vision without a religious heritage building somewhere in the picture.


Crispin Truman, London 2021

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