'THE most significant' renovation project in a generation is set to transform one of south Oxfordshire's most historic sites.

The custodians of Abingdon's Abbey buildings have unveiled £3.45 million plans to make the centuries old buildings fit for the future.

The Friends of Abingdon Civic Society want to carry out repairs to the buildings, which include the Unicorn Theatre, and upgrade them to host more events.

Although funding and permissions have not yet been secured, it is hoped the extensive project will help attract more visitors to the town and ensure the abbey's history is better known.

Chairman of the society Bryan Brown said the upkeep of the abbey was an 'onerous responsibility.'

He added: "We're not at a point where the buildings are in danger but if something major was to happen, we would be very challenged.

"This is our chance to make them safe and secure for a generation.

"We can improve access, make them far more comfortable and animate the fantastic history we have here."

The abbey was one of the first large monastic sites dissolved by Henry VIII during the reformation.

The buildings, at the end of Checker Walk, are among the few surviving structures from the original site with the oldest dating back to the 13th century.

Used by monks for administration and guest residencies, they found later life as a brewery before being saved from demolition in the 1940s.

The new plans were revealed at an event over the weekend with organisers hoping to inspire the local community to get behind the project.

Changes being discussed include installing heating and lighting and better access for disabled people.

New exhibitions will be curated alongside a shop and meeting spaces in the hope that the buildings can be used all year round.

Entry fees will be charged to enter the exhibitions with the society anticipating it will need to take on more paid staff.

The Friends have also spent a £70,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant drawing up the extensive plans, and are aiming a spending a total of £3.45m.

It is hoped more money can be secured from the National Lottery, local councils and public donations but Mr Brown said funding was likely to be the toughest challenge.

He said: "This is something we have been thinking about for more than two years and we have done a lot of the preparatory work already.

"We will need a significant grant from the lottery but it is going to be very competitive and there is not as much money around as there was.

"But we are very optimistic they will recognise the importance of this site.

"It is Grade I-listed and, as one of the first to be demolished in the 16th century, is highly significant in our history."

A timeline for the project has also been released with the main body of work due to take place in 2021 and 2022 and a grand re-opening pencilled in for winter 2022.

The buildings are already a popular wedding venue and host a range of other activities with money raised helping to fund the upkeep.

Last winter the Unicorn Theatre began hosting film screenings in partnership with The Regal in Evesham.

These have attracted 12,000 people in last five months but hope to move into the nearby Guildhall in future.