A LONG established Otley church is seeking to establish its first permanent base in the town.

Bethel Church is hoping to turn what used to be James Barber’s tobacconists and gift shop, on Westgate, into a place of worship.

The church’s plans for the empty shop and office space at 20-24 Westgate include making alterations to the internal layout, creating a sanctuary area and installing a wheelchair lift.

If planning permission is granted and the scheme proceeds it will mark a new stage for Bethel Church which has had a presence in Otley for more than a century.

Church Elder Richard Hughes said: “Over the century of its existence, Bethel Church has never owned its own premises and currently meets at the Chevin Community Centre on Craven Street.

“The church is now intending to acquire its own building.

“Whilst we are grateful for the scout group’s hospitality it has become clear that we will better serve our congregation and the community at a different location.

“We are, therefore, exploring the purchase of the former Barber’s Tobacconists shop.

“With minimal internal changes this can become a welcoming church and a centre for a range of community activities.

“The change will keep the premises in good order for many years to come, supporting the vibrancy of this area of the town when the need for retail space is in decline.

“It will, as we develop our services, bring more footfall back to the street but in a manageable way.”

Referring to the fact that the planning application is seeking potential opening hours of 10am to 8pm daily, he said: “We will look to organise our own extended weekly usage, but also to support other groups looking for a pleasant space to rent.

“We expect the impact on our neighbours from noise and activity to be minimal and the overall benefits to be positive.”

Bethel Church Pastor Chris Haley added: “We are excited about this new phase in life for the church.

“This building would give us space to grow and an opportunity to serve the community in a new and exciting way.

“It’s a chance to bring the life-giving message of Jesus that we’ve been sharing for 103 years to a wider section of Otley.

“Once the plans are approved and we have purchased the shop we will organise an open day when the public can view our plans and discuss them with us.”

An evangelical church, Bethel currently meets at Chevin Community Centre on Craven Street, off Leeds Road, for its Sunday morning services.

It also has a small church hall on Myers Croft where it holds Sunday evening services, and runs an informal Bible study session at Otley Courthouse each Wednesday.