By Clive Fewins

Around 50 churches a year have closed in Britain since the late 1960s. This works out at just under one a week.

The dwindling of congregations is a cause of this, but so too is the high cost of maintaining buildings that are very often centuries old.

The Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust is a charity that raises money for the upkeep and repair of places of worship in the county. Last year it gave out £194,500 to 34 churches.

The trust’s main fundraising event is the Ride and Stride event (you may see it marketed as Ride+Stride) which takes place this year on Saturday, September 8.

The event sees people gain sponsorship and use various modes of transport to travel from church to church. You can cycle, walk or even use pogo sticks (although nobody has tried that last one just yet). The Bishop of Oxford will be travelling around the city by boat this year.

You can take part on your own, with friends or as a family, and this year there is a cup for the business team that raises the most money, with the Taylor Trophy for the winning firm being designed by local artist Eleanor Clutton-Brock.

It is a great opportunity to get some exercise, enjoy some really first-class architecture, and try to make a difference to society.

Some 45 per cent of Grade I-listed buildings in Britain are churches, so it is not unreasonable to claim that they are one of the nation’s greatest architectural achievements.

They also provide a window on local history. If you want to find out about the important people in a particular locality across the years, then go the local church. Very often their influence will be evident there.

I always say that however dark and dreary a winter’s day it is, when you come across a church, then establishing why it is there and how it is like it is today is like unravelling a mystery story.

We are lucky to have the most amazing churches in Oxfordshire. So many have survived, often from Saxon times, because we have not had the same degree of military upheaval – foreign armies marching across the landscape – that most European states have witnessed.

As a result, our churches are preserved to a degree that is seen far less often in countries like France and Germany.

So you get gems like St Mary the Virgin in Waterperry where you walk in and there is a Gothic arch with a Saxon arch immediately above it.

Or St Mary, Chalgrove, where a huge amount has been spent on restoration work, especially on the remarkable wall paintings, which are of national importance.

Then there is Dorchester Abbey, with its amazing glass and stonework, or the large, remote and mysterious parish church at Langford on the Gloucestershire border, which experts believe to have been a Saxon minster.

But these splendid buildings are not just living history books, nor just architectural statements. They serve as vital resources performing valuable functions.

They clearly serve the spiritual needs of people of faith, but they also offer a place of quiet, retreat and thoughtfulness to wider society.

It is often argued that Christian places of worship are becoming less relevant and that, as society becomes more secular, we should not be investing in churches, particularly in a time of austerity.

To take this view ignores the cultural and social role that churches have in our communities, and overlooks the potential that these buildings have.

Churches can give so much to future generations, but not if they are falling down.

They can become places where community spirit is preserved or created. To do so requires drive and imagination from the clergy, but it also requires the building to be physically sound or to have the funds to make the physical changes that the modern world requires.

Find out more about Ride+Stride locally at