A CHURCH hall that has fallen into disrepair in Barton will have to be abandoned next year, according to surveyors working for the Oxford Diocese.

And residents fear it could now become a target for vandals.

Community groups that use St Mary’s Church hall in Bayswater Road will have to move to another site by July 2014.

The wooden 1960s building next to St Mary’s Church was deemed by the diocese surveyor last August to be unsafe within a few years. This estimate has since been moved forward to 2014.

Rev Maggie Thorne said: “We are closing it in July 2014 if not before, depending on whether it stays safe until then or not.

“We have to make the church itself a useable space and look to demolish the church hall.

“At the moment it is one little step at a time but it will cost us a fortune.”

A feasibility study to decide the best way forward for the church considered replacing the hall completely, costing an estimated £500,000 to £1m.

The church hall is used by Brownies, Guides, the Isis Dance Academy and church social activity groups.

But Mrs Thorne, 54, said plans are now to make the church itself suitable for community groups to move into.

For this the bench pew seats will have to be replaced by stackable chairs so that they can be moved around to create floor space when needed.

Future plans include extending the church building itself. But residents now fear the hall could become a target for vandals.

Sue Holden, secretary of Barton Community Centre in Underhill Circus, said: “What worries me is if it is left standing it could be vandalised, that could cause more problems in itself.

“It wouldn’t be easy on the eye if it falls into further disrepair. “But it is a tough call to ask people to raise money to demolish the building because it’s a negative thing.

“Fundraising is usually to build something new but this is to knock it down so it is difficult.

“The positive spin is that the funds are needed to improve the church itself and get it suitable for community groups to use.”

The plans have sparked a fundraising plea.

Mrs Thorne added: “We are a fairly poor parish but we will be doing everything we can to raise money and will be looking into grant applications.

“We just need to get over that first hurdle. And we need to try and keep the shell of the old hall in a reasonable condition for as long as possible.

“It is all change in the life of a parish.”

Funds for the new chairs have already been secured by grants from other churches and benefactors.

Mrs Thorne added she hoped the new chairs chosen would be approved by the diocese by the end of the week.