THE campaign to save York's Mystery Plays has taken a major step forward.

A York Mystery Plays Association has been formed with the aim of staging the plays again - if possible in the Museum Gardens in 2005.

Two working groups have been set up to investigate the options.

One, chaired by former Lord Mayor and York Festival chairman Keith Wood, will examine the feasibility of organising a major staged production near the ruins of St Mary's Abbey in the Gardens in two years' time.

The other will investigate the best legal structure the association should have to allow it to take up as much grant aid as possible.

The association was formed during a meeting at the Evening Press offices as part of the paper's Keep York Mystery Plays Alive campaign.

The meeting was attended by volunteers who had come forward to offer to form a new Mystery Plays board, as well as representatives of organisations like City of York Council and York Tourism Bureau.

The volunteers included people with great experience in areas such as the theatre, business, marketing, events and fundraising.

Janet Barnes, chief executive of York Museums Trust, said the trust was wholly supportive of Museum Gardens being used again, but it was not yet known when improvement works would be carried out there and she could not commit to a date as yet.

The Plays were last performed in the gardens in 1988, but the atmospheric location is seen by many as the spiritual home of the Mystery Plays tradition.

Mr Wood, who was responsible for the Plays performed there in 1980 and 1984, thanked the Press for making the meeting possible, and said he passionately wanted the Plays to continue. In his opinion, the Museum Gardens were the only location where they should be staged.

He believed it might cost not far short of £1 million to stage them again, and a major fund-raising drive would be needed. He also expressed doubts as to whether there was enough time to organise them by 2005.

Mr Wood said today: "It's a tremendous challenge, but a worthwhile challenge to take on. There's certainly a will, but what we have to do is find a way."

Another volunteer, businessman Steve Bielby, said he believed the Plays would now go ahead.

"The Press's Keep York Mystery Plays Alive campaign has brought together a group of people with the necessary skills and commitment to do just that," he said.

But the help and support of the people of York would be crucial.

Mark Brayshaw, of Rockin Horse Promotions, said he believed the right people with the necessary skills had come forward to ensure the Plays could be staged in some shape or form in 2005.

Robert Ward, chairman of the Friends of York Mystery Plays, said the group was delighted to be associated with the campaign and would continue to give its full support.