The public were shown the radical plans to restore and improve St Wilfrid’s Church at a consultation evening in the parish hall last week.
The most famous of all the designs by Edwardian architect Temple Lushington Moore, the church on the Duchy estate is widely regarded as an architectural masterpiece.
But details of this major project in one of the town’s most prominent conservations areas came with a warning – St Wilfrid’s Church is engaged in a fight for its very survival.
Recent years have seen five churches within a two mile radius of its Duchy location being either redeveloped into flats or boarded up altogether.
But Father Gary Waddington, team rector at St Wilfrid’s said the church had to be restored and renewed if it was to have a long-term future.
He said: “This is fundamentally about the future and survival of St Wilfrid’s. It’s that simple.
“We want to save our church for future generations not as a museum, but as a living place of worship and as a centre for the community.
“Listening to everyone’s views is vital in that process.”
Such is St Wilfrid’s reputation, the church was even the subject of a poem by Sir John Betjeman - Perp. Revival i’ the North, in which its elegant grandeur and traditional liturgy was praised.
The public has responded strongly so far to St Wilfrid’s fundraising appeal which was launched last September.
But the clock is ticking and it still has to raise a further £350, 000 by June.
Fr Waddington said: “We’re grateful for the strong support for the vast majority for our plans.
“Our task is to do the very best we can for everyone - the life of any church, is ultimately about people and we’re passionate about improving a building that has to serve people, rather than people serving the building.”
Chaired by Mike Whittaker, the development project is essential to all of St Wilfrid’s future plans.
The plans envisages St Wilfrid’s becoming a welcoming and flexible, multi-functional space for a huge range of community events - from public concerts to dinner dances, art exhibitions to conferences, theatrical productions and more.
As designed by project architect Nick Rank of Manchester-based Buttress Architects, the project will also see the building itself improved to it can continue to operate as sustainably as a local parish church for the next 100 years.
Nick Rank is recognised as one of the leading architects on historic and ecclesiastical buildings in the country.
If St Wilfrid’s reaches its £500,000 target by June, it will be able to apply for Stage 2 funding which, if successful, would then unlock a £1.6million grant.
The finances would would enable the church redevelop, rediscover and transform the space.
Heritage project officer at St Wilfrid’s Church, Catherine Wright said: “For over 100 years this church has proudly dominated the northern skyline of our town. We all assume it will remain that way and will always stand proud as part of the make up of the town.
“However, this is not a foregone conclusion. In a radius of two miles from this site, five churches have either been developed into flats or boarded up.
A series of events has been organised by a fundraising committee headed up by Pam Grant in its drive to hit the all-important financial target.
There will be a Walk for Wilfrid on May 8 organised by the Rotary Club along the Nidderdale Way starting at Ripley Castle.
The church will hold its first-ever major art exhibition with local artists.
Art Space will run at St Wilfrid’s from April 29-May 1.
And a Duchy Street Party to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday will also take place on June 12.
Catherine Wright said: “We are confident that we can raise the money but the time scale is so short. We are a long way off at the moment.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for St Wilfrid’s and we are asking our local community to support us in our bid to Heritage Lottery.”
l For more information or to donate to the appeal, visit www.stwilfrid.org
l This year’s Harrogate International Festivals’ 50th anniversary will see St Wilfrid’s Church hosting the Brodsky String Quartet on Sunday, July 24 as part of Summer Music Festival.