A HISTORIC building's long-term future rests on a £4.5 million upgrade with a dedicated charity now formed to help the scheme become reality.

Plans for a major refurbishment of Abingdon's Abbey buildings were first unveiled last year, with heating and lighting to make the space usable year-round and improvements so it was accessible to all.

The Friends of Abingdon Civic Society, which has looked after the building since the 1940s, put in a bid with the National Lottery Heritage Fund in September last year and spent the initial £70,000 grant on a feasibility study.

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Following its success, the society has now been invited to apply for a major grant, the first stage of which is a development plan, costing an estimated £340,000.

Around 90 people, including the Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire Tim Stevenson, came together at the medieval buildings at the end of last month for the launch of a group of trustees called the Friends of Abingdon Abbey Buildings Trust, dedicated to the scheme.

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Chairman Bryan Brown said: "They are the reason that Abingdon exists, they represent the foundation of the town."

He added: "These historically significant buildings are not only wonderfully atmospheric but contain the Unicorn Theatre, the only theatre in the Abingdon town centre; importantly they have developed into a vital community asset.

"They host many of the town’s civic and community activities as they are the home of local amateur dramatics groups, various forms of music, a revived cinema and several Abingdon festivals.

"However, this heritage, community asset is threatened by the condition of the buildings.

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"The access and services are in poor condition such that general use is only possible during the warmer months of the year."

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.

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

Mr Brown said the plans were incredibly important to ensuring the future of the town centre buildings in the long term.

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He explained: "Unfortunately if we can't raise the money there is a great question mark over the future of the buildings.

"We can't afford to do this on our own, we aren't a wealthy organisation."

Despite this, Mr Brown said he was optimistic about the project and felt the National Lottery Heritage Fund understood the value of the buildings, which are registered as a scheduled monument of national significance and architecturally Grade-I listed.

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He said: "Our goal is to make the buildings usable for twelve months of the year and to be accessible to all, to engage wide community usage particularly for the young and the disadvantaged, to continue to develop an interesting programme of events, music, drama and entertainment and to create an exciting visitor attraction animating over 1,000 years of history for the benefit of the whole Abingdon community and visitors to the town."

The charity is now raising the £340,000 for detailed development plans, through a lottery grant and matched funding from the council and local organisations.

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It is hoped the plan will be completed by Spring 2020 with an eventual start to the £4.5 million scheme in 2023, before completion in 2025.

The next community event at the Abbey buildings will be the Abingdon Traditional Craft Fair, a three-day event which starts on Friday and will see the historic buildings filled with stalls from local traders.

To keep up to date with the plans visit friendsofabingdon.org.uk.