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Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Wednesday, 26 May 2010 13:31 UK
Church people preserving the past
Danny Lawrence
By Danny Lawrence
BBC Radio Devon

Thomasin and Jim on top of St Martin's Church tower
Thomasin Westcott and Jim Pilkington on top of St Martin's church tower.

It's the people who make up a church, not just the bricks and mortar.

But churches are among the most difficult buildings to run because they are very often the oldest in the community.

A nationwide charity has taken over some of England's most vulnerable churches, including ten in Devon.

Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) is keeping the doors open for people to continue coming in, to pray, praise, or just poke around.

Jim Pilkington is the custodian of St Martin's Church on Cathedral Close in Exeter.

The coat of arms of Charles I
The coat of arms of Charles I was hidden away after his execution.

He opens the doors every morning from Easter to October, and on weekdays throughout the winter.

"This was a fully worshipping church," said Jim.

View our gallery of the ten CCT churches in Devon

"The Central parish of Exeter were running it, along with seven or eight very old churches in the city, and they desperately needed help to maintain them.

"The Churches Conservation Trust said they could take over one of them, and with the position of St Martin's - in the shadow of the Cathedral - it was the right place for them to manage."

CCT's development officer for Devon and Cornwall, Thomasin Westcott, hopes the vital refurbishment work the charity undertakes will encourage more and more people into the churches.

"My job is to encourage general community use," explained Thomasin.

"We open our churches for concerts and art exhibitions, and I'm currently working on getting schools to use them as an educational resource."

"Since they're all still consecrated, they can also hold up to four services every year."

Churches Conservation Trust was set up 40 years ago, and currently manages 342 churches across England.

St Martin's Church tower
The Heavitree red brick tower of St Martin's overlooking Cathedral Green

St Martin's has also become the base for Cards For Good Causes, when city-centre shoppers can buy cards in the run up to Christmas.

That swells the visitor numbers, which are sustained for most of the year by tourism.

It's a treasure trove for history and architecture fans.

The CCT volunteers had a surprise in store when they took over the building in the 1990s.

Hidden away in an upper floor of the tower was an original coat of arms of King Charles I, dated 1635, which now hangs on the wall.

"Most of these were destroyed after Charles was executed in 1649," said Thomasin.

"One canny member of the church back in the 17th century thought it was worth keeping though, and it stayed high up in the tower, unknown about, for centuries."

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