HISTORIC churches in Bury could be set to receive vital funding for their upkeep and regeneration.

An 18-month pilot scheme to repair and enhance listed places of worship in England was launched earlier this week by the Heritage Minister Michael Ellis ­— and St Mary's in Prestwich is one of the churches selected for assistance.

Support for the church, which is described as being of "significant historical importance" and dates back to at least the 13th century, will seek to improve the fabric of the building, including re-roofing the medieval Wilton Chapel.

The funding for St Mary's comes as the church has unveiled plans to share its heritage more widely with the community through new display materials, interactive features, a children's guide and a new heritage website.

The church is also planning to hold a host of free heritage events and school visits.

In total £1.8 million has been made available for two schemes, the first in Manchester and a second in Suffolk.

Run by Historic England the pilots will bringing together expert advisors and work with all faiths and denominations.

The project has been launched in the wake of the Taylor Review which highlighted the "vital role" churches play to their local communities in providing a sense of identity and a community space.

Mr Ellis said: “Historic faith buildings are a key part of our rich heritage and it is important they are protected.

“Every year thousands of volunteers dedicate a huge amount of time to their upkeep, but many need high levels of maintenance and repair.

"Through these pilots in Manchester and Suffolk, we will unlock the wider community potential of listed places of worship, and provide practical guidance to help preserve these much-loved buildings.”

Through the scheme the government will also provide £500,000 in funding for minor repairs, which will be overseen by a newly appointed fabric support officer, Karen Heverin.

Ms Heverin will also be responsible for administering grants across the region, advising on ways to maintain buildings, and running training events to help volunteers to care for churches.

A further community support officer, Rachel Lake, will also work to encourage the wider use of buildings to serve the community.

Welcoming the new programme the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said: “Church buildings are an important and much-loved part of the heritage of Greater Manchester. Many are also well used to provide much-needed community facilities.

"We are delighted that Manchester has been chosen for this pilot to help fund urgent repairs in some of our listed buildings, and hope that the lessons learnt from the pilot will help enable our churches to go on serving their communities for generations to come.”