A FUNDRAISING appeal to buy a new organ for one of Darlington's oldest churches is to be launched.

The 124-year-old pipe organ at St Cuthbert's Church, in the town centre, has been deteriorating badly in recent times and officials are now determined to raise the £400,000 needed to replace it.

The appeal begins with a flower festival, which gets under way this month, as the church aims to make the community aware of the situation.

St Cuthbert's is now looking for a prominent public figure to help spearhead the campaign, which has already raised £15,000 thanks to the efforts of the local congregation.

The organ, built in 1880 by Hull firm Forster and Andrews, has declined to the extent that the church believes cheap "patching up" measures are no longer the answer.

Church treasurer Brian Johnson said it was decided that, in going for a new organ, the church would try to maintain tradition.

"We were determined that if the funds could be raised, we would replace a pipe organ with another pipe organ. We are really trying to preserve something very special for future generations," he said.

Estimates obtained by the church suggest the project will cost about £375,000, plus VAT and costs for scaffolding and heavy lifting.

It sets the church a daunting challenge, but one that it is determined to rise to.

Mr Johnson said: "The enormous cost is generated by the fact that every single piece is hand-made and there are hundreds of pipes.

"My view is that there was no way we could raise this other than through a big public appeal."

Durham firm Harrison and Harrison has been responsible for maintenance of the organ since 1953, but another firm was commissioned to carry out an overhaul in 1986.

That exercise was doomed to fail as sufficient funds were not available to overcome the serious problems the instrument was developing.

The flower festival, that will see the official launch of the appeal, backed by church patron Lord Barnard, takes place at the church, from Thursday, September 23, to Sunday, September 26.

It will feature displays by Darlington Flower Club, Darlington Embroiderers' Guild and Darlington Art Society. The event will be opened by the Editor of The Northern Echo, Peter Barron.

Admission to the Thursday night launch is by programme and invitation. It costs £10 and includes supper and wine. For the following three days, admission is by programme, which costs £2.

Mr Johnson said: "While such an appeal will be aimed outside the parish, it is essential to have the wholehearted support and commitment of the congregation.

"Above all, it is hoped that the many events arranged by parishioners to raise money for the organ fund will continue."

Anyone interested in donating to the appeal, or wanting further details, can contact Mr Johnson on (01325) 350754.