BUILDING work has begun to preserve an 'iconic' Oxford church an open it up to a wider community.

Work is under way to improve facilities at St Mary and St Nicholas in Littlemore, to make the church a more useable space.

It launched a fundraising campaign to help cover the £740,000 cost, and has so far raised more than half.

Tomorrow will see the church's founder, Cardinal John Henry Newman, canonised by Pope Francis in Rome.

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Reverend Margreet Armitstead, priest-in-charge at the church, will make the trip to St Peter’s Square to see him officially recognised as a saint.

The building project has been named after Cardinal Newman, and will be called the Newman Meeting Place.

Its aim, according to a prospectus about the project, is: "To renew the vision of John Henry Newman and turn the church he built into a spiritual, cultural and social meeting place serving the 21st century needs of this diverse community."

As well as work to preserve parts of the historic building, which Cardinal Newman built in 1835, the project will bring amenities up to date and open up the church for wider use.

The prospectus states: "This iconic building is now in urgent need of repair.

"Many of Newman’s original features, untouched for 180 years, require careful preservation and restoration.

"These include the marble monument to Newman’s mother, and the original donor board, commemorating all those who helped to finance the building."

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Toilets, running water and more flexible seating arrangements will allow for better use of the space, for exhibitions, concerts, lectures and community events and activities.

There will also be a heritage area where visitors and pilgrims can learn more about Cardinal Newman's legacy.

All of the changes will be contained inside the building, including a kitchen, storage facilities, a balcony and a large meeting room.

A new electrical system, heating, lighting and stone floor will be installed, and there will also be a community cafe.

The prospectus adds: "The project will create a new community space in a truly inspirational building, right at the heart of Littlemore.

"This seven-day church will become a centre where, in Newman’s words, ‘Heart speaks to heart’. There is no other space for that in Littlemore."

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The church will work with mental health agencies, schools, Littlemore Village Hall and a befriending service to run activities at the Meeting Place.

On Saturday, October 26 the church will host a concert at 7pm, with music created by musician-in-residence Malcolm Atkins, to celebrate the canonisation of John Henry Newman.

All are welcome to join in and anyone who wishes to take part, of any musical ability, can join rehearsals there at 7pm on October 17 and 22.

Mr Atkins said: "We are trying to set up an arts hub around the church to involve all the local community, from all backgrounds.

"It's a very open and inclusive initiative, which is all part of the whole development of the church to become a community hub."