A COWLEY Road church forced to padlock its gates to keep out drug dealers and deter anti-social behaviour is preparing to open them once again.

Father Philip Ritchie from St Mary and St John Church said the church had seen a drop in evidence of drug selling in the church grounds since the decision was taken in September to block entrances via Cowley Road, Magdalen Road and Leopold Street.

READ AGAIN: Church padlocks gates to keep out 'brazen' drug dealers

He said: “One gate has remained open and we have had dog walkers come in to use the church grounds as well as a couple of events outside the church but my hope is in spring we will be able to open the side entrances again.

Oxford Mail:

Father Phil Ritchie at St Mary and St John Church Picture by Ed Nix

"The police are wary of opening up too quickly as they didn't want us to only close them for a short period because that wouldn't solve the problem."

He added: "We always intended for the measures to be temporary though as we know it is such a popular route for local people."

In a Facebook post to explain the decision to parishioners last year Mr Ritchie wrote people selling drugs had become an ‘increasing problem’, adding: “Drug sellers, often on bicycles but sometimes parking outside our house and walking into the churchyard had a choice of five exits which meant it has been difficult to police.”

ALSO READ: 'My flat was taken over by a gang of drug dealers'

He said things had been ‘a lot better’ since the measures were taken and there had been a positive response from the community about how to tackle the issue in the long term.

He said: "We now have a steering group set up to help ensure the church grounds can still be used by residents for years to come."

Steps include creating a flower patch and planting a bush to improve how the church grounds looks, as well as making it less accessible for drug selling.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Ritchie added: "It can't just be about moving the problem out of the churchyard though and needs to be about the whole community."

He has been involved in recent efforts to clean up drug taking in East Oxford, and joined the city council's new task force yesterday picking up needles near Manzil Way, off Cowley Road.

It was formed in September in response to residents' worries about the visibility of drug crime in public spaces in the city, with the number of discarded needles found on the streets going up by more than 15 per cent in a year.

READ AGAIN: Needles being left outside Cowley Road shop 'on a daily basis'

In December the Oxford Mail reported Cowley Road businesses and community leaders were worried about the effect visible signs of drug taking were having on trade and that children were seeing needles on the way to school.

Anyone interested in being part of the church group can contact them though Mr Ritchie by emailing vicarcsj@gmail.com.