CUSTODIANS of an historic church who have seen it returned to its former glory with extensive renovations are inviting the community to help inject it with a renewed life.

St Helen's Church in Kelloe, near Durham, has invited residents to a meeting at the Kelloe Workingmen's Club at 7pm on Shrove Tuesday to enjoy pancakes – and discuss the future of the church.

The grade one listed church is famed for being the first place of worship of Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and attracts international visitors because of a rare stone carved cross.

Church warden Robin Millerchip said: "We need to test public opinion to find out how important the church is for people.

"This s against the background of a decline in church services - the Methodist chapel and Catholic chapel have long closed. We could be the only public building left in this village one day.

"We have a very small regular congregation that is very elderly and have to plan ahead for the next generation.

"It seems to me it would be a terrible waste of public money restoring this building, having spent about 400,000 in total over the last three years. and it not being used to the best possible benefit of the parish.

"It is not just a case of it being used for church services. We also want to see it used by children's groups families even individuals for all sorts of things."

The first stage of work on the church, completed at a cost of £120,000 in 2018, involved the repointing of church tower and reroofing of the chancel.

The second stage of work, carried out with a grant of £210,240 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, saw the conservation of the stonework all around the building.

Mr Millerchip said: "What we are looking at now is changing the furniture. The pews are uncomfortable and don't necessary provide the best seating for the modern age.

"We want to take some out to create an area where people can relax and have some soft seating, while also having an area where children can play.

"We would like to provide a proper toilet and a kitchen catering point and glaze in an alcove for small meetings and functions. This would would cost about £200,000.

"We like to see what support we have for this."