VILLAGERS are trying to save their church after it was shut on safety grounds almost one year ago.

The congregation of St Helen's in Dry Sandford are fundraising for £500,000 worth of repairs to the roof and walls, after falling masonry saw it deemed unsafe.

It was officially locked in March and since then, Sunday services have been held at Dry Sandford Primary School hall.

A JustGiving page set up to raise donations states: "St Helen's is a much-loved church and the focal point for a wider community.

"For more than 160 years, generations of children at two local schools have attended services beneath its soaring stone arch.

"Its walls have witnessed hundreds of weddings, baptisms and funerals, as well as countless Sunday devotions."

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The closure was described as 'tragic' and the page added: "The damage is structural and the sad fact is that if we do nothing, we will lose the building."

A jumble sale was held in Cumnor on Saturday to support the cause, and the church has organised a wine-tasting fundraiser on Friday next week.

The church, near Abingdon, was built in the 1850s on the ruins of a medieval religious site.

Experts discovered that following a lightning strike in 1961, the roof was incorrectly repaired and more pressure had been placed on the outside walls.

Deputy church warden Marisa Goodenough said the unusually dry weather in 2018 had also likely weakened the structure.

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The Dry Sandford resident said: "It was just bad luck with the change in climate and the structure of the building.

"We are soldiering on and haven't missed a single Sunday service."

She said a lot of people assumed the Church of England would pay for repairs, which is not the case.

The group is hoping to apply for grants but are rallying the community's support too.

She said the building was a 'resource' that could be used for music concerts, lectures and activities as well as services.

The fundraising campaign has been staggered into two halves, as £260,000 should be enough to get the walls sorted and ensure the building is safe to reopen.

The second phase will focus on the roof repairs.

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