Living in a vicarage is an enormous privilege. Ours is a seven-bedroomed three storey detached Victorian house with a large garden, outbuildings and a cellar. It’s wonderful to have so much space to live in and to share with parishioners as we offer hospitality.
Vicars tend to have big houses so that they can have meetings and offer hospitality (well, I guess that’s the reasoning). I think there are even some minimum size stipulations for living rooms to ensure that you can fit the entire PCC in. So we have a big house. And a stipend of about £20k. The size of the budget is not at all proportionate to the size of the house and the associated heating bills. In fact, if we hadn’t made careful provision, I’m sure we’d fall into the government’s ‘fuel poverty’ bracket (more than 10% of income spent on heating).
We have a boiler that’s 20 years old, single glazed sash windows and 10 foot ceilings. Beautiful but freezing. The diocese is poor and doesn’t have the budget to ensure modern levels of comfort in every house.
So what techniques do clergy families use to keep warm in their huge and unheatable homes?
- Clothing layers and slippers. As I type this up I am wearing my fleece gilet. Essential clothing for a vicar’s wife. At our last church, the vicar’s wife had a down-filled one which she wore nearly all year round.
- Limited room use. We stick to the kitchen and one family room most of the time.
- Baking. And porridge in the mornings. It really helps if you have the cooker on.
Before we moved here, we also decided to use some savings, our harvest from working as engineers in the Far East before we had children. We decided that we’d spend it on being warm in the vicarage. So we’ve installed two wood-burning stoves in the main reception rooms and underfloor heating in the bathrooms. We reckoned that this way we could be warm in the mornings and evenings without having to pay for the boiler to heat the whole house.
This seems to be working very well so far. We’ve managed to remain very comfortable without the heating until now and are hoping we can last until half term this way. The vicar is getting very skilful with the wood-burning stoves, but I’ll save all that for another post.