MEMBERS of a landmark church in the heart of Darlington have gathered to hear about renovation plans that could transform the historic building.

St Cuthbert’s Church, in Market Square, Darlington, could become a hub for arts and heritage activities under the new proposals as church leaders look for ways to keep it sustainable in the 21st Century.

At a well-attended public meeting to start consultation about the proposals, parishioners heard from the Reverend Robert Williamson and Ian Fleming, chairman of the steering group leading the plans, about why change is necessary at the 800-year-old building.

There was also a talk by architect Ulrike Knox, who outlined some of her ideas for St Cuthbert’s, which include installing flexible and removable seating to open up space for exhibitions and performance art, new toilets and a servery, and changes to the access points.

Rev Williamson told the meeting that the church would always remain, at its core, a place for worship, but that the time had come to make sure St Cuthbert’s could remain relevant and welcoming to the people of Darlington.

He said: “St Cuthbert’s has been here for 800 years – we must not be the generation that lets it fold. We have to be the generation that looks to the future and opens it up and really makes it a vibrant centre of the community in Darlington.”

Mr Fleming added: “It’s abundantly clear that unless we make changes in the near future, this wonderful church is likely to become a boarded up relic. We should not and will not allow that to happen.

“The building has undergone alterations in its life, change is nothing new to it. But it has been 150 years since any major change and the social and economic situation has changed.

“I care that we in Darlington continue to have and offer to others one of the finest grade one listed buildings in the north of England. I want to see the church as part of the heart of the town and open to the wider community.”

The proposals for St Cuthbert’s are at the earliest stage and are subject to public consultation and funding.

Artists impressions of the changes are available to view inside the west doors of the church.