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DAC site visits
This article is intended for Parochial Church Councils awaiting a visit from the Diocesan Advisory Committee, to help them to make the most of the visit.
When you apply for a faculty to carry out changes to your church, the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) may wish to pay a visit to look at the proposals on site. If this happens, then do not worry and do not panic! This is not an official inspection and you are not going to be put in a position where you will be expected to give ‘right’ answers or will be marked down for ‘wrong’ ones.
At each of its meetings the DAC usually has a lot of cases to review. It doesn’t have the time to look at each one in detail. So that it can take a properly informed view, it’s often useful for some of the members to pay a visit to your church and hear directly from you or your architect about what you want to do and why. It’s also a lot easier for them to assess the proposal if at the same time they can see for themselves how it fits together, where it’ll be carried out and what impact it will have. It can be difficult to make sense of a building and a design from drawings and photographs alone. If the DAC’s Chairman thinks this would be helpful for a new application, then he will direct the Committee to carry out a site visit before discussing it in any detail.
It’s important that a site visit should be as helpful for you as it is for the visiting members. Make the most of it – some of them may well be leading experts in their field and at any rate they will all be people with lots of experience of dealing with church buildings and a good understanding of how parishes use them. You’ll be able to put questions to them and their expertise is at your service!
What happens before
Soon after the DAC meeting where your application was discussed the receptionist at Diocesan House will get in touch, to ask you for a couple of dates and times when you are available to receive a visiting party. Incidentally, do let us know at this stage if there are any health or safety hazards of which we need to be aware and assess the risk involved. There’s no need to worry about this – we just want to know in advance if looking at the parts of the building where you wish to carry out the work detailed in your application will involve, for example, going into an area which is not usually open to the public, such as a roofspace or cellar, where space may be confined or access difficult.
Site visits always take place on weekdays during working hours. On average they run for around an hour, but it’s difficult to give more than a rough indication because a lot depends on the scheme and building in question. We appreciate that it can be difficult to find time in a busy schedule, but it’s always good if as many people with an interest in the project as possible are present – typically the vicar, one or more of the churchwardens, the project designer and your inspecting architect (if these aren’t one and the same person). We try to make sure that your Archdeacon is also present – it is usually he or she who chairs the meeting. The dates are put to the members of the DAC with a deadline for replies and the one which attracts a ‘critical mass’ of responses is the one which is chosen. Once this deadline has passed, you will be contacted again to confirm the arrangements.
Before the day of the visit, the Parish Property Support Team member handling your application will send out information about the visit to all the participating members. This will include the papers setting out the proposal and also an agenda. This is usually a standard form document, but do download it from this page, take a look and let the Parish Property Support Team know if you have any information you’d like to add or suggestions to make so that we can tailor it. You might like to discuss this with your Archdeacon, too. It helps to make the visit a lot more fruitful if we know who’s going to speak and what you’d like to tell us.
What happens on the day
Visiting members usually meet inside the church. They will begin to arrive in advance of the visit, so if your church isn’t normally open during the day it’s helpful if you can unlock it 10 to 15 minutes before the meeting is due to start. Also, it’s always appreciated if you can leave the church open for a little while after the meeting in order to give everyone a chance to look around. Remember that often the visiting members won’t be familiar with your church: this could be the first chance they’ve ever had to see inside and they’ll be interested to get to know it better, which in turn helps them to put your proposal in context. Your caseworker may want to take photographs for the Parish Property Support Team’s records, too. Providing refreshments and explaining where to find the toilets is always appreciated.
The meeting will start with an introduction from the Chair, who will explain what is to be discussed and what the purpose of the meeting is. It may be to help the DAC take a view on a scheme that has been submitted to it for the first time and not yet discussed in depth; in that case the visiting members will report back to the full committee. But it may also be that the decision on whether to grant a Certificate of Recommendation – the document you need to apply for a faculty – has been delegated to the visiting members.
Everybody present will then introduce themselves. Next, a representative of the parish will be invited to explain the proposal: what led to it, how the PCC arrived at the solution it has put forward, what aims or shortcomings it seeks to address and how these fit in with its mission. Usually the vicar of the parish does this, but there are no hard and fast rules.
Then the scheme is outlined. Usually the project designer does this, but again, there are no hard and fast rules. He or she explains what work is to be carried out, where and why, and also what the visual or physical impact on the site or the building will be. If the proposal is at an early stage and other options are under consideration then it’s often useful for the visiting DAC members to hear what these are and why you’ve chosen the one that you favour. It will help them to understand the proposal a lot better if you walk them around the building and show them where the work is to be carried out.
After giving the visiting members a few minutes to put questions to the parish representatives the Archdeacon will briefly discuss with them in private what they’ve heard so that they can decide how to advise the rest of the DAC. It’s helpful if you can provide a separate space for this, or else withdraw while they’re in session if that’s possible. The outcome of the discussion won’t always be the DAC’s definitive position, but it does tend to guide the full committee. The Archdeacon will then get everyone to regroup and close the meeting by explaining what is going to happen next. Your caseworker in the Parish Property Support Team will record all these discussions in the form of site visit notes.
What happens next
If your application is going to be discussed again by the full Committee then your caseworker will contact you after the next meeting with its advice. This will be set out in the form of a letter accompanied by the site visit notes. But if the decision on the approval of the scheme was delegated to the visiting members then – provided they’re happy with what they saw – you will shortly receive a Certificate of Recommendation. If not, and they have requested revisions, then your caseworker will explain in writing what needs to be done so that a Certificate can then be granted.