PART of a closed-down church building is going to be turned into flats so that the congregation can return to their spiritual home.

Eight apartments are to be built inside the 320-year-old Chipping Norton Baptist Church, in New Street, after West Oxfordshire District Council gave planning permission for the project.

It is hoped that the refurbishment could see services held there again from next summer.

It means the church, which closed in 2009 after falling into disrepair, will no longer have to find the estimated £500,000 required to renovate the building, as the developer will fund the work as part of the project.

Deacon Joe Rice said: “There’s definitely a mood within churches to do this, where the developer is renovating the church and gets the rest of the land to build on.

“It’s something that some of the smaller churches should look at as it’s a way of dealing with a problem that’s out of control.

“To put the building back in good order would cost half-a-million pounds but we don’t have it, so this is a good option, so we still have somewhere to worship.”

The church has suffered water damage and the electrical and heating systems need renewing. Mr Rice said the interior looks “like a bomb site”.

Since the building closed, the congregation of about 35 people has used Highlands Day Centre for services and Chipping Norton Town Hall for other activities.

The plans by developer Citadel Spring and owners the Baptist Union Corporation include eight two-bedroom flats on the ground, first and second floors, in areas previously used as classrooms and for the Sunday school.

The Grade II-listed church will have 100 seats for the congregations once the work is complete, rather than the 500 it used to boast.

The work, estimated to cost £900,000 including building the flats, is expected to begin in September and could be completed by next summer.

Mr Rice said: “If you go back 100 years the church had a very large congregation, with a peak of about 400 people, but over the years it diminished in size. The congregation is really pleased, because they moved out five years ago and are eager to get back into the building.”

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