MEMBERS of the congregation and visitors to a parish church have celebrated the success of a major project to restore its roof.

More than 80 people went to an open day at St Mary the Virgin Church, in Embsay-with-Eastby, to take a closer look at work on the church, carried out with donations, local fundraising, and a grant of more than £102,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As well as the restoration project, there has been an initiative running in tandem aiming to make the history of the church and the churchyard available to a wider audience.

The churchyard project has involved a survey team, including members of the congregation and the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group, working alongside researchers from York University's digital heritage team. They have been surveying the 1,033 recorded burial plots, containing over 2000 burials, and matching them with existing records and local history to build pictures of some of the colourful characters buried there.

This has also given them an opportunity to create a database to improve responses to enquiries about past burials.

Part of the research has been the use of 'reflectance transformation imaging' which is an innovative non-invasive technique to recover the text from some of the weathered gravestones.

The expertise which the group has developed in this and churchyard surveying has led to them being asked to advise on similar projects elsewhere.

People were welcomed to the open day by the Rev Louise Taylor-Kenyon, who spoke on the years of "vision building and creative thinking" which had taken place in getting the projects off the ground. And she praised the successful 'Sponsor a Slate' scheme, led by members of the congregation Simon Smith and Peter Edward, which had contributed so greatly to the success of the project.

In the afternoon, David Turner and Jane Lunnon led tours of the churchyard on which they spoke about some of the people who had been buried at St Mary’s and the roles they had played in the history of the two villages.

Ans stonemason David Lamb, who has been repairing a damaged cross on the church roof, gave a talk about the tools of his trade and how they were used.

Churchwarden Anthony Luce said: "A quieter but fascinating aside to all the activity was a book where all those who had contributed to the Sponsor a Slate scheme were recorded together with their comments about their reasons for wishing to support St Mary’s.

"This provides a moving insight into the importance of this church to a wide community which reaches well beyond those who pass through the doors on Sundays. In the words of one contributor: “As a lifelong resident of Embsay, I’d like to think St Mary’s will continue long after I’ve gone.”