Wednesday, 2nd September 2015

Churches join to woo tourists and boost economy

There are 12 churches in the Shrewsbury area which have signed up to a special tourism group set up to make the most out of what our churches have to offer.

Tourism chiefs have also given their backing to the scheme which has more than 80 members across the county.

The Shropshire Churches Tourism Group is the brainchild of Anni Holden, who had witnessed a similar scheme take off in Herefordshire and believed it could bring benefits to Shropshire.

sd3763486sh04abbey-church.jpgRev Paul Firmin from the Abbey, with shop manager Mike Purslow.

The group is working closely with other county tourism organisations to raise the profile of the county’s churches and help promote local amenities in the process, such as nearby pubs and bed and breakfast accommodation.

To make this easier, 20,000 Discover Shropshire Churches brochures have been produced containing a map of 77 member churches in the area and their details, which have been gathered together in three zones to make it easier to locate each one.

The brochures are available from all the member churches and in visitor information centres and major tourist attractions.

The group came together following two meetings in the county 18 months ago and a steering group was formed in January this year.

The group’s first annual general meeting was held in Shrewsbury Abbey last month and members came from across the county, before agreeing to adopt a constitution for the group, officially honouring its existence.

Tim King, Shropshire Council’s tourism officer, has acted as an advisor and a speaker at the AGM was Katie Foster, who until recently chaired the Shropshire and Telford Tourism Strategy Board. She encouraged members to look at the wider picture and realise they were part of one of the biggest industries in the country and to make their churches as welcoming as possible.

Among the church members in the town are Shrewsbury Abbey, St Mary Magdalene in Battlefield, St Chad’s Church and St Alkmund’s Church.

Anni, who is secretary of the Shropshire Churches Tourism Group, told the Chronicle the purpose of the group was to positively promote churches to visitors, and contribute to the local economy at the same time.

‘Really successful’

“We had two exploratory meetings in Craven Arms and Bayston Hill which attracted people from more than 40 churches,” she said.

“From there we decided to go ahead and produced a really attractive brochure featuring 77 member churches. Such is the success that six more churches have joined with an eye to being in the next leaflet in 2012. It’s been really successful.

“We have nearly run out of the brochures and have just a couple of hundred left across the county.”

She added: “Churches are a vital part of the tourism industry and are vital to the economy of Shropshire. By making our welcome to visitors better and by joining up and working together, we can point out local pubs and bed and breakfasts and other tourist attractions.

“One of the really good things about this group is that there is no shortage of keen and enthusiastic volunteers, so when we asked if anyone would like to take over as chair, someone offered to do the job,” said Anni.

“Christine Tinker from Clungunford is the new chair and Stewart Ballantyne from Ruyton-XI-Towns is continuing as an excellent treasurer. Lorna Taylor from Rushbury, near Church Stretton, is membership secretary and I am continuing as secretary for another year. We have a good geographical spread in the officers never mind the whole group.”

The group is working on the development of a new website which it is hoped will go live this summer.

To find out more or to get involved email a.holden@here

by Charlotte Hester