WORK has been completed on restoring an ancient church roof after a special dispensation was given to replace it with steel in a £311,000 bid to beat thieves.

Extensive damage was caused to St Gregory’s Church in Bedale, which dates back over 700 years, when lead thieves struck on one of the wettest nights of 2016.

Criminals stripped more than 40 square metres off the roof leaving the ancient Lady Chapel and large parts of the building exposed to torrential rain.

St Gregory’s is Grade I listed and so regarded as an ”exceptional building” - only 2.5 per cent of listed buildings are Grade I.

With a Saxon nave, large parts of the church were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The Pele tower is renowned as the best preserved in the North, and is where local inhabitants would have sought refuge when Scots raided the countryside

There had been plans to replace parts of the lead roof, but after last year’s raid church leaders were unwilling to put the church at risk again.

The Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund and Historic England were approached for a special dispensation to allow the roof to be replaced with Ternecoat stainless steel, specially weathered to resemble lead.

For the Rector of Bedale, the Reverend Ian Robinson, it has been a huge bonus which he admits helps him sleep easier at night, especially as the roof has been fitted with an alarm.

“It’s a real relief. We were so concerned but the roof looks wonderful and the steel does resemble lead. The important thing is that this beautiful building is preserved for future generations,” he said.

“It has cost a lot of money and the Places of Worship Repair Fund contributed £110,000, but Bedale church had to provide the rest of the money.

“We did get £60,000 back in VAT but we had to raise money and use funds from reserves.

“A large part of this was legacies from residents and supporters who have left money for the church in the past so the care and support of previous generations helped us to preserve this wonderful building, and the ministry work we do here. We couldn’t have done it without them.

“This has made us really appreciate how important this is along with the support of our congregation who work so hard.

“Now we are also setting up a legacy campaign to encourage people to help the church.”

Other churches in the area have been targeted by lead thieves including Aysgarth, Redmire and Burneston. So far no one has been arrested in connection with the thefts.