A CHURCH at the heart of a Dales community is being forced to close after failing to raise enough cash for crisis repairs.

St Margaret’s Church, in High Bentham, needed to raise more than £250,000 in the next five years, on top of its normal income, to remain open.

However, following failed appeals and applications for grants, the church cannot afford essential maintenance needed for building insur-ance.

The Grade II listed building required a new roof, a replacement organ, disability access and emergency work on the tower.

The Parochial Church Council has written to the Bradford Diocese and Church Commissioner to inform them they plan to close the church from September 1.

Rector, the Rev Clive Burgess said the decision was still in its ‘very early stages’.

“It’s a bit too early to make any rash decisions about what to do with the building,” he said.

“We are unable to maintain it any longer. There was only a 2.3 per cent response from the community when we sent out appeals. Many of the grant bodies I applied to didn’t even respond.

“I think partly the recession has added to the problem but honestly there are lots of reasons. The numbers (of worship-pers) were down which was the biggest problem.

“The world has chan-ged, people go shopping on a Sunday or the football league runs on a Sunday.”

The PCC voted unanim-ously to close the historic building after more than a decade of falling attend-ance from local residents.

Mr Burgess said: “Hav-ing taken this momentous step, the PCC would now very much like to focus on the future of the Anglican church family in High Bentham - to worship as a congregation but ‘without walls’ but we cannot fully consider this while burdened with concerns of our building.”

The Archdeacon of Craven, the Venerable Paul Slater, said: “The PCC have taken a brave, but realistic, decision. It is always hard to close somewhere to which many people have an emotional and historical connection.”

Annual running cost for the church, without main-tenance bills, has been £23,000 annually which paid for electricity, insurance and some of the clergy’s wages.

Rector Richard Snow, of Kirkby Lonsdale’s St Mary’s Parish Church, made a similar appeal to the community for cash in February. He said: “The response from the local community has been wonderful.”

He added that although congregation numbers had fallen, the church had adapted to work with other bodies, such as the school and craft clubs, to enhance its link with the community.