They’ve stolen the roof from our conference centre.

Water was coming into our training room so, risking life and limb, I scrambled into the roofspace to investigate. Sure enough there was water where no water should be. And daylight coming in through the roof, where no daylight should be. Here begins a story of cost and frustration at a conference centre in Sheffield.

A quick trip up the tower revealed a heartsinking sight. Lead ripped off the top of the roof, the flashing torn off our beautiful church. The gargoyles looking on, open mouthed with shock.

Thankfully the brilliant roofers from Martin Brookes were out within a couple of hours to make us watertight. Shaking their heads they told us story after story of churches in Sheffield that have had the same treatment. Some churches have been done twice in the last year.

It’s a dangerous and almost pointless crime. The thieves will get a couple of hundred quid and it will cost us over ten grand to repair. It’s so rife that insurance companies are only offering partial cover. In the best case we will get 50% payout. However an administrative error with our Smartwater notices means that our insurers may refuse to pay at all.

The impact is severe. We’re lucky: as a social enterprise conference centre with loyal customers we will recover from this. But most churches are cash strapped and unable to fund the huge costs of repair. Lead theft is a devastating blow to congregations who are quietly and faithfully serving their communities in the best way they can in every parish in the country. It’s churches who provide the soup runs, the lunch clubs, tea dances, food banks, toddler groups, youth clubs. Churches who provide the weddings, christenings and funerals, carol services and school assemblies which mark the lives of every person in the country. Churches which keep the rumour of God alive and offer a place of community which tries to welcome everyone. Everything we do is imperfect, but at least we’re trying to do it.

Now I’m trying to work out how we get the lead replaced without the same scaffolding being used to nick it again. Answers on a postcard please.