AFTER 150 years as the hub of the community, the fate of a much-loved Hampshire church hangs in the balance.

St Peter’s, a small, picturesque church in Ovington, is in financial dire straits and parishioners fear it could close by the end of the year.

Elizabeth Stevenson, secretary to Ovington and Itchen Stoke Parochial Church Council, said: “We are desperate to keep the church open but our income does not cover our outgoings. We can manage to keep it going to the end of the year. We just don’t know what to do.

“Our killer is the Parish Share as it’s nearly £12,000 a year. It’s that that’s killing us. All churches have to pay it. There are one or two who don’t pay it and they are therefore more likely to be shut down.”

The Parish Share is the scheme by which a local church repays costs which have been met on its behalf – mostly comprising the cost of paying clergy.

Churchwarden Sarah Thorne, of Coal Lane, has been attending St Peter’s for 30 years. She said: “The church is the centre of our community. It would be absolutely heart-breaking if it were to close. We ran a fete which raised £3,000 and have held concerts, but it’s not enough.

“These funds have met the basic running costs of the church but are nowhere near what’s needed, and there are just simply not enough people to do it.”

The PCC has also agreed to raise funds for £65,000 worth of repairs to the church, but with a congregation currently standing at 10 to 20 people for the weekly service, the council must establish whether villagers want to maintain the church.

Mrs Stevenson said: “We all take turns to keep it open during the week and the church is just loved and it’s a beautiful church. It would be such a shame if it was closed.”