28 NEWS
Dwindling
congegations
cast pall over
city churches
Years of neglect have left Birmingham’s
churches crumbling faster than anywhere else in the country, a report has
revealed.
A survey of the city’s holy buildings has
revealed that 28 per cent are at risk of
falling into serious disrepair – compared
with an average of nine per cent in other
cities.
English Heritage said dwindling congregations were the main reason that
church leaders had struggled to raise
funds to meet spiralling repair bills.
The conservation body has issued
guidelines to worshippers to help teach
them how to preserve the buildings for
generations to come.
“Churches are all that some communities have left now that post offices and
pubs have closed,” said Tim Johnston,
English Heritage’s director for the West
Midlands.
“There’s help out there but there’s also
a lot that congregations can be doing to
help preserve churches. We have found
some buildings with serious damage to
stonework just because gutters weren’t
cleaned so we will be advocating the old
adage about a stitch in time,’’ he said.
“It’s difficult to put a finger on why Birmingham has so many churches in the
risk bracket. Dwindling attendance is
one factor but it seems possible that
other strands of Christianity have become more prevalent than those worshipped in the more traditional church
buildings.”
Those in Birmingham which have been
identified as “at risk” include St Edburgha’s in Yardley – the city’s second
oldest church, dating back more than
800 years.
Church leaders have had to stop ringing bells for fear the Grade I-listed spire
could collapse and hope to start remedial work next year.
Parishioners at Assemblies of the First
Born on Lozells Road in Lozells also hope
to move back in next year after eight
years in temporary accommodation.
Mortuary Chapel at Handsworth Cemetery is still being used for services but is
deemed at risk while its state is assessed.
St Barnabas Church in Erdington
High Street is also on the list after being
gutted by fire in 2007. A planning application has been approved to create a
modern structure alongside the remains
of the 19th century church.
Singers Hill Synagogue on Blucher
Street in Birmingham city centre has
been given an award by English Heritage
for conservation after worshippers raised
thousands of pounds. The neo-classical
hall, dating from 1856, has been developed as a centre for all faiths.
Others singled out for praise by English Heritage chiefs include the Church
of St Leonard, at Yardpole, in Herefordshire, which is home to the village’s post
office and a cafe.
Tapping in to the
Security expert Richard J Aldrich
tells Richard McComb about
the threats to privacy posed by
Britain’s electronic snoops.
R
esearching the history of
GCHQ, Britain’s largest and
arguably most secretive intelligence organisation, can be
an unsettling experience.
Just ask security expert Richard J
Aldrich, who has spent most of the past
decade looking into the super-snoop
agency, based at Cheltenham in a circular building known as The Doughnut.
Aldrich has just published GCHQ, an
uncensored history of the Government
Communications Headquarters, a clandestine body both feared and revered for
its code-breaking exploits and covert,
often highly controversial, surveillance
techniques.
GCHQ is the direct descendant of
Bletchley Park, whose pipe-smoking
cypher boffins were celebrated for cracking Nazi Germany’s wartime communications.
However, the same nostalgic glow has
never bathed the activities of our modern-day Station X, due in part to its
growing reputation for what Aldrich
calls “retail surveillance.” As his book
makes clear, we are all, in a sense, being
watched; and Aldrich, professor of international security at the University of
Warwick, is not naive enough to think
that he may have slipped under the
radar. After all, snooping on the snoops
– that’s just not British, is it?
In his new book
Richard J Aldrich,
left, looks at the
changing role of
GCHQ, based near
Cheltenham, right
“It is a great relief to have finished the
book so I can leave alone the lead box I
have been carrying my phone around in
for the last eight years,” says Aldrich.
“I typed the book on a special laptop
that was disabled so it didn’t connect
to the internet. It’s not that I’m paranoid or anything.”
That’s the thing about secrecy: it
does breed paranoia. Talking to
Aldrich by phone, I am aware that the
line is particularly poor, muffled.
They’re not listening are they?
“In the United States, we know they
had an intelligence programme called
First Fruits which looked at journalists and historians who were
studying the intelligence
services. Once you see
the Americans doing
it, it’s only prudent to
be cautious,” says
Aldrich.
He does offer mild
reassurance about the
integrity of my phone
line. “One of the things
that professionals tell
you is that actually listening in to phones is
very time-consuming. Even if you have
got computers checking for key words,
you have then got to listen to the transcripts,” says Aldrich.
“It is much more efficient to go into
people’s computers. The most important
thing is to make sure you are working on
a computer that doesn’t connect to the
internet and then you are hygienic.”
Hence the “dumb” laptop Aldrich used
when writing his book. He couldn’t see
them; they couldn’t see him.
GCHQ is a fascinating, accessible read,
detailing the development of the organisation through the Cold War, its daring
intelligence-gathering operations under
the Soviet fleet, the Real IRA’s bombing
of Omagh and the War on Terror, which
has put a monumental strain on the investigative resources of all law enforcement agencies, covert or otherwise. The
wars in Iraq and now Afghanistan, and
crucially, the involvement of British citizens in al-Qaida inspired terror plots on
home soil, have blurred the boundaries
between the remit of GCHQ, MI5 (the
domestic intelligence service), MI6 (overseas intelligence) and the police.
Then there has been the inexorable
rise of the “wired world” with text mes-
sages, email, web browsing and financial transactions casting an electronic
web of our public and private movements
and sparking a fundamental change in
the nature of intelligence since the end
of the Cold War.
Aldrich says: “In the Cold War, you
think of people smuggling bits of paper
out of Berlin or Moscow under coat collars. Now we are dredging intelligence
from much more mundane places –
emails, which aren’t encoded, mobile
phone conversations, which aren’t encoded, people’s Tesco loyalty cards,
transport cards. The agencies are overlaying all this stuff – your credit card
details, internet access details, details
they have got from your car number
plate off cameras – and when they overlay all that they can build up a minute
picture of your life. But none of this stuff
is terribly secret. It is ordinary stuff.
“Our ideas of privacy are changing.
Britain sent 30 billion texts last year,
which are a minute description of our
everyday life. Almost every five minutes
we send out a little electronic signal.
People put themselves on My Space and
Bebo. There is a change in attitude to
privacy. Privacy is dissolving to some
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Tapping in to the secrets of GCHQ 28 NEWS