A CAMPAIGN to raise £23,000 to restore a 150-year-old organ to its former glory has begun at St Sampson’s Church in Cricklade after damage caused by a colony of bats took their toll on the cherished instrument.

Bat excrement has blocked the pipes of the delicate 19th-century Nicholson Organ over the years and it is now in dire need of repairs if it is to continue playing for marriages, funerals and Sunday worship.

So far the church congregation has secured £539 from funds set aside by the parochial church council, but they are a long way away from the £23,000 the restoration is expected to cost.

“We want to bring the old organ up to scratch,” said verger Rose-marie Saunders.

“It has been kept ticking over the years, but has not been renovated. I don’t even know if it has actually been renovated since the 1800s.

“It’s a lovely old thing. We need more than £23,000 which is a huge amount of money.

“It’s such a large amount that we can’t put a time frame on it, but the sooner we can get the money the better for the organ.

“It will continue to deteriorate over time. We have £539.52 at the moment. It’s not much, but it’s a start.”

As bats are a protected species the congregation has been helpless against the unwanted visitors. And maintaining the organ has proved challenging.

“One of the problems is that unfortunately we have bats and bats and church organs don’t mix,” Rosemarie added.

“They poop down the pipes. And because they are protected there is nothing we can do about it. I should think there must be a solution, but I have no idea what it is.

“You can’t hoover the pipes of church organs because it makes the organ squeal. It puts it out of tune completely. It’s not just a question of dusting it.”

The church’s organist Sarah Townsend is desperate to see the organ repair work completed.

Sarah, who has been playing at the church for six years, said: “It is a lovely organ to play, but the dust and bat poo has caused it to deteriorate.

“The most urgent work that needs doing is getting it cleaned, the pedal board needs an overhaul and it would be nice to have the original fascia back on it.

“It is an historic artefact that needs restoring and really complements our choir.”

The church will stage its very first fundraising event towards the appeal - a summer concert performed by its choir – on Saturday at 7pm at St Sampson’s.

Tickets to the concert cost £5. To book or to donate to the appeal contact Rosemarie on 07765 392852 or email rosemariesaunders47 @yahoo.com