A CONGREGATION in the centre of York plans to throw open the doors to its historic church and share the building with the community.

Churchgoers at the Central Methodist Church in St Saviourgate have decided to start making their building a community space which more local groups can use, while the church still uses it for Sunday services.

The church's minister Rev Chris Humble said that after seeing many other sites around the city centre sold off for redevelopment - like the old Fire Station on Clifford Street - there were fewer and fewer places left that could become much-needed community space. Now they plan to start work on their 22,500 sq ft building so it can fill some of that need.

Rev Humble added: "We would not stay here just to occupy the building, we are staying because we have seen other spaces in the city centre sold off.

"We have got something almost unique here in that we own the building - we've got this therefore we can offer to share it."

The 1840 built church can seat 1,500 people in the main chapel, but with an average congregation of around 45 there is more space than the church needs.

It already hosts several charities and voluntary groups in offices on the first floor, as well as Carecent who have their regular breakfasts in the hall and several other groups.

They have found a strong demand for small offices in the city centre, with all but one of their existing spaces already let through word of mouth alone.

Now they want to make the historic building more accessible for disabled people, add an accessible and welcoming reception space, fill a hole in the market for affordable conference spaces and offices, and possibly create more offices in the vast open space above the current church hall.

The plan - which has the support of the congregation as well as the Methodist circuit of churches in York - includes few alterations to the historic main church, bar the removal of some of the box pews and in the central space to make it more suitable for concerts or conferences.

Richard Ramsden, the project manager for the first year of the "Transforming Central" scheme, said: "The overall aim is to preserve and protect as much as possible, but we have to some changes to bring it into the 21st century."

* The centre York once had two large Methodist churches - the Wesley Church and Centenary Church. The Wesley Church on Priory Street was sold in 1982, and now houses the Rock Church.

When the two congregations merged, Centenary Church become known as the Central Methodist Church.

Earlier this year the church sold a house on Priory Street, the caretaker's house connected to the old Wesley Church, and money from that sale have helped start the redevelopment project.