A PRECIOUS Pugin-designed Widnes church has been restored to its former glory and is set to once again become the hub of the community.

St Marie's RC Church, built in 1896, has been lying empty and unused since it closed in 2007.

It has now been transformed into a new home for Halton volunteer centre, after an ambitious £1.6 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Healthwatch Halton, the borough's health and social care consumer watchdog, also shares the building in Lugsdale Road.

Artists from Italy have painstakingly restored the altar and the statues and stations of the cross have have also been cleaned and refurbished.

Alison Gleave, development officer of Halton CVS, said: "The altar has been completely renovated. It is a beautiful pink, peachy marble. "The renovators have done a superb job. They have kept what they could of the original church.

"All the gold leaf has been reinstated.

"Anyone who was married here can walk on the original boards.

"It is a wonderful heritage site. It is lovely."

Perspex partitions have created offices in both aisles for staff from Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, which supports 2,000 voluntary community groups and organisations.

Tables and chairs now form a meeting place in the centre of the church.

Alison said: "We help people find rewarding, inspiring and fun volunteering opportunities and organisations to develop new opportunities and recruit, support and train their volunteers.

"We make a difference in the community. "

Weekly volunteer drop in sessions start on Thursday, August 7 from 1pm to 4pm.

The building will be open to the public following the official opening on September 12. Call 01928 592405 for more details.