‘We will not be beaten’.
That’s the message from defiant bosses at a 650-year-old Chorley church where thieves have caused thousands of pounds of damage.
St Laurence’s Church, on Union Street, has been at the heart of the town for more than six centuries.
On Wednesday, thieves scaled the roof of the 14th century landmark and stole lead worth around £1,000.
They were only stopped when neighbours heard vandals ripping off the lead and throwing it to the floor.
The church - which costs £2,000 a week to maintain - is now appealing to members of the public to help secure its fate for future generations by joining a fundraising group set up after the blow.
Rev Martin Cox said: “Broadly speaking it costs £2,000 a week to keep the church turning over. But that’s before any costs for things like maintenance work.
“That’s why the theft of lead from the roof has hit us so hard.
“It is so disappointing when things like this happen, especially in the year we are celebrating our 650th anniversary.
“The problem we have is that the costs (of running the church) far outweigh what the people who worship here can afford.
“It’s important for the people who worship here, but it’s also important for the community as a whole. That’s why we desperately need help from people to make sure it is here for future generations.”
Church warden Chris Pryor was alerted to the vandals walking on the roof in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
He said: “I got a phone call at 3.50am from our neighbours Denise and Nick Hogan at the Swan with Two Necks pub.
“We don’t know how many people were up there, but they were ripping the lead off and then chucking it down - presumably with the idea of collecting it later. They were making a lot of noise which alerted the neighbours.
“The police came quickly and thankfully they were scared off.
“But for something like this to happen, especially in our anniversary year, is really upsetting.
“Buildings like ours, despite our precautions, are easy prey for those who want to steal lead and cash it in.”
Roofers fixed the damage and made the building water-tight, but the church was left with a bill totalling £1,000.
Chris said: “We have claimed on our insurance but, because of the amount of churches that have been hit recently, our insurers have out a cap of £5,000 on claims. This means if we are hit again, we could be in real trouble. We pay for everything from fund-raising and weekly contributions.”
The church has to raise £70,000 in costs to pay central funds each year, before it covers bills like electricity and heating. That takes the overall costs of running the church well into £100,000 every year.
The church has responded to the blow by making steps to set up the Friends of St Laurence’s – a group to ensure the church’s future is saved and to raise money to cover their increasing costs, as well as calling on members of the community and local businesses to dig deep.
Kate Cree, who is co-ordinating the fund-raising, said: “It’s beyond belief what some people will do these days to make money.
“Unfortunately, people do resort to this type of thing and the church is left to collect the bill. This church isn’t just about Sundays.
“We are a community church with things like baby and toddler groups and social events. It feeds all sorts of things for different people who don’t necessarily worship here.
“That’s why when something like this happens it is so upsetting. The church means a lot to a lot of people.”
To get involved with fund-raising, call the parish office on 01257 231360.