ST PAUL’S Church in Winchester celebrated its last last service before closing its doors for refurbishment.

The annual Harvest Festival was the last ceremony for up to a year at the city centre church in Fulflood.

A successful £850,000 fundraising appeal means that building work now begins to modernise and transform the church into a community centre.

The Rector, Canon Peter Seal, told a packed congregation: “We are putting the church to bed as we move into the all-important construction stage of our ‘Building for Life’ programme.

“From next week we will be worshipping at 9.30am every Sunday at Western, our church school. It is therefore very appropriate that the children are with us today for Harvest Festival.

“The school choir will sing us out of this building as we prepare to move into theirs.”

Plastic sheeting around the organ was a reminder that change was already underway.

Floorboards have been lifted and Fareham-based building company Amiri Construction will arrive on site next week to begin the work.

The last service ended with a prayer that the congregation would return “stronger in faith, stronger together and ready to build new life and ministry in this place.”

As some of the congregation left, a small group of people stayed on and began moving some 300 chairs into spare garages.

Roof spaces were cleared and re-filled with bibles, hymn books, kitchen equipment and altar linen.

Building work at the church is expected to last up to a year. The newly refurbished church will have new kitchen facilities, accessible toilets, underfloor heating and mezzanine community meeting space.

Around 900 people visit the St Paul’s site each week to worship, play, dance and pray.

Canon Peter added: “This is an exciting and daunting time for us in equal measure. We really want to play our part in preserving the vibrant community feel in this part of Winchester.

“We want our buildings to be enjoyed and used more and to be a focal point for people living in Fulflood and Weeke.

“During the building work, all regular weekday activities will continue to take place on the site.

“The hugely popular pre-school will continue to meet every morning and dance classes will carry on as usual.

“Changes over the next year will inevitably bring new challenges but we are looking forward to building ever closer links with our church school, with the children and their families.

“We welcome everyone in this vibrant part of Winchester to join with us in this new part of our faith journey.”

Chair of governors at Western CE Primary School, Vicki Tibbitts, said: “As a Church of England school we already enjoy a very close relationship with St Paul’s and we hope to build on this over the coming year.

“St Paul’s is an amazingly friendly community and we are delighted to be hosting their weekly service.”