A GROUP set up to safeguard the future of a historic church has celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Founding members of the Friends of St Edmund’s Church, in Sedgefield, have been praised for their foresight back in 1999 in launching the group.

The group’s primary role is to raise funds to ensure that the church can be preserved for generations to come.

At the 20th anniversary dinner and dance, retiring group chairman Ron Eyley said that more than £160,000 had been raised for conservation work since the group was formed.

But after thanking both members and supporters for their generosity down the years, he warned that many challenges lay ahead if St Edmund’s were to be preserved in reasonable condition for the generations still to come.

Mr Eyley said: “In the current economic climate it is heart-warming to know that so many people still support and join the friends after so many years – especially when you think of all the other deserving groups bidding for funds these days.

“We hope they will continue to support us for the next twenty years.”

Eight founding members attended the dinner in the parish all and heard the Reverend Martin King, former rector of Sedgefield and a founder member of the group, toast the friends and reminisce about the early days.

Mr Eyley replied to the toast and thanked secretary and social programme co-ordinator Alison Hodgson, treasurers Nigel and Lynda Clegg, membership secretary Brian Mutch, website manager Christine Mutch, design consultant Kevan Stevens and committee members Jimmy Seymour and Anne Eyley for their hard work.

There was also praise for Coxhoe-based caterers Lowthers of Durham and The Gastric Band whose members donated their live music entertainment during the evening.

Although the event was not organised to generate funds, it raised hundreds of pounds.

More than £850 was collected which will be used to continue conservation work on the church.