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Fundraising drive begins for Preston’s grandest church

A fundraising drive for one of Lancashire's most significant Roman Catholic churches kicks off this weekend in an effort to secure the future of the building which is threatened with closure under Lancaster Diocese's plans.

Named as one of the Victorian Society's Top Ten Endangered Buildings in 2007, the Grade I-listed St Walburge's Preston received a substantial grant from English Heritage towards the end of last year. Yet the future of the 1857 church by architect JA Hansom, who also designed the Hansom cab, could be very bleak if the Lancaster Diocese presses ahead with plans to close the building, leaving it with empty and without an agreed use. Now parishioners hope that their programme of fundraising events, which starts with a Hot Pot supper on Saturday 23 August at 7.30pm in the Parish Centre on St Walburge's Gardens, will help keep the building, which has the tallest spire of any parish church in England, in use for many years to come.

‘We're delighted to see the local community taking positive action to save St Walburge's,' said David Garrard, Historic Churches Adviser of the Victorian Society. ‘An outstanding building by an ingenious and imaginative architect, St Walburge's is one of Preston's greatest historic buildings. It was built to express the pride and confidence of the Roman Catholic community after legal restrictions on religious observance were lifted in the nineteenth century. To close it now would cost local people access to some of Lancashire's richest heritage.'

The money collected through the programme of fundraising events, which is set to include a performance by Preston Concert Band and could see parishioners abseiling down the church's 309ft spire, will go towards the refurbishment of six of the building's stained glass windows. This is being overseen by the Bernard Taylor Partnership Ltd who carried out a survey in 2006, identifying at least six fractures to the stone mullions surrounding the glass, as well as considerable damage through vandalism. The work marks the first phase of an ongoing programme of repair to St Walburge's. ‘We're delighted to see the restoration work starting at St Walburge's,' continued Mr Garrard. ‘This is exactly the sort of care the building needs if it is to continue to be a proud landmark in the city for another 150 years. We wish the fundraisers every success with their plans and hope this marks the beginning of a change of fortunes for Preston's most extraordinary church.'

The Hot Pot Supper, which includes entertainment from Lancashire band ‘Tap the Barrel', take place from 7.30pm at the Parish Centre on St Walburge's Gardens. Entrance is £5 and there will be a licensed bar. For more information or to purchase a ticket, please call 07854 459 585.

Friday 22 August, 2008

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