THE extensive grounds of a church and former Victorian mansion will be open to the community under plans being driven forward by its congregation.

Under the proposals, the grounds at Elm Ridge Methodist Church, off Carmel Road South, will be reinvigorated, to make them of more use to people in the Darlington area.

Elm Ridge was built by John Pease in the 1860s – but he died in 1868 before it was habitable, his widow and daughter eventually moving in without him.

The house was donated to the Methodist Church in 1932 for use as a church, with its 3.7 acres of grounds.

But the congregation felt the beautiful gardens could be put to better use – and they are now formulating landscaping plans to create a spiritual, heritage and nature conservation trial, a sensory garden and natural play features which could include stepping stones or logs for climbing on.

However, they are keen to work with the wider community to find out what they would like to see as part of the landscaping plans. Registered charity Groundwork has been working with church members and community groups, which use the church hall, to put together plans for consideration in the Grounds for Inspiration project.

Work on detailing and costing the proposals will continue over the next six months, together with inquiries to charitable trusts and authorities about possible help with funding.

The large grassed open area in the centre of the wooded site would continue to be available for activities and events for Church and other partners and an annual programme would be published.

The Church Council wishes to explore possibilities of partnerships with other community organisations. Those wanting more information can visit the church hall for a chat on Mondays 10am-11.30am (except Bank Holiday) or Thursdays between 2-3pm.

Rev Solomon Joseph, Church Minister said: “The aim of the project is to reinvigorate the grounds at Elm Ridge and share God’s love in Church and Community.”

Church member John Wearmouth said: “We are very much looking forward to what people have to say about the ideas and hope it is possible for us to provide a resource of value to the whole community.”