THE incoming vicar of a rural Darlington parish has asked to start afresh, after hearing that residents still harbour ill-feeling over the closure of the village church.

Revered Christine Blakesley will officially take over the Parish of St Laurence, covering Middleton St George and the surrounding area, at a service on Sunday at St George’s Primary School, in Middleton St George.

The primary school hosts Sunday worship for the parish following the closure of the historic St Laurence’s Church last year by Church Commissioners on the grounds that it required unaffordable repairs – something disputed by local residents and the parish council.

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Rev Blakesley attended a meeting of Middleton St George Parish Council to discuss the need for a permanent office and meeting space in the village for the church during the week.

A proposal for the church to team up with Middleton St George Scouts to replace their aging Scout hut with a new structure for both groups has been mooted, which Rev Blakesley said would be her preferred option.

That plan is in its earliest stages while the legal and financial practicalities are considered.

Parish chairwoman Doris Jones said the parish council had no spare land or buildings to offer the church, beyond the weekly use of the parish meeting room.

She added: “The village is still very much reeling over the fact that the doors to St Laurence’s were closed in 2008, with no attempt to rescue the church from that moment on.

“St Laurence’s is still there – there’s your church building. They [the commissioners] were adamant that the only way forward was to close it. We will do our best to help you by providing a meeting space, but we have nothing else to offer you.”

In response, Rev Blakesley said she was keen to support the Scouts, who have been forced to use facilities elsewhere due to the state of their building, and create a new building that would benefit the community.

On the subject of the closure of St Laurence’s she said: “I know of the heartache in the village.

“I would like to make clear that the church doesn’t have one face and if I had been here two years ago we would not have gone down that road. I would like to draw a line under the issue.”