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Grant for Preston’s most endangered church

News that English Heritage have awarded a large maintenance grant to St Walburge's, Preston has been welcomed by The Victorian Society, who hope that this latest recognition of the Grade I-listed church's national significance will halt plans to close it down.

Last year, the Victorian Society included St Walburge's on its list of Top Ten Endangered Buildings in England and Wales after Lancaster Diocese announced plans to close it and four other listed churches. Although it still has a regular congregation, the 1850-66 building by architect Joseph Aloysius Hansom, inventor of the Hansom cab, was earmarked for closure as part of a cost-cutting drive following years of mounting maintenance bills and falling Mass attendance across the region.

Without an agreed future use for the church, which has the third tallest spire in England, the Victorian Society feared that St Walburge's might suffer the same fate as Grade II*-listed St Augustine's, Preston, which was demolished in 2004 after years of dereliction. Now campaigners hope that the injection of up to £134,000 for maintenance as part of English Heritage's Places of Worship Repair Scheme will convince the Diocese to rethink their plans.

'We're delighted to hear about the English Heritage grant,' said David Garrard, Historic Churches Adviser of the Victorian Society. ‘But it could come too late if the Diocese presses ahead with plans to close the church. We don't dispute the pressures they are under, but we urge them to do everything possible to safeguard the future of this nationally significant building. The decisions they make now could have serious consequences for some of Lancashire's richest heritage.'

He continued: ‘The best and only sure way of preserving a church building is to keep it in its original use. This is particularly true now for St Walburge's, which may no longer be eligible for the English Heritage funding if it is closed. You only have to look at what happened to St Augustine's to see what's at stake here: if the Diocese does not make provision for their churches, these buildings may not be around much longer. That would be a disaster for us all.'

Wednesday 12 March, 2008

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