After 10 years of planning, permission has finally been given to turn St Mary’s Church in Devizes into a performing arts centre – all that is needed now is to raise £5 million to build it.

Fundraising will begin next month, with the Bishop of Ramsbury staging an event to start the money coming in.

Although the Church of St Mary The Virgin in Park Street will remain consecrated and will continue to hold services, the ancient building will now also become a home for stage shows, dance performances and an exhibition venue for art, sculpture and film screenings.

“We have been working on this for 10 years and now we have received formal notice of approval from the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Salisbury for the plans to regenerate St Mary's into a multi-use cultural space,” said Tony Scorer, the project leader for the St Mary’s Devizes Trust.

“Our vision is to transform the church into a new vibrant building.”

The church dates from the Norman times and is one of the most important buildings in the town, with the church tower a particular landmark. The building is listed Grade I, putting it among the top 2.5 per cent of listed buildings in the country.

The Parochial Church Council (PCC) of St John with St Mary applied for redundancy for the church in 2006 as it did not have a viable congregation as its larger, sister church of St John’s fulfilled the needs of the parish. Rather than accept the redundancy, the Diocese of Salisbury asked the PCC to look again for alternative uses for the building.

The church was offered to the congregation of St Peter’s Devizes but they decided it did not meet their needs. When a major fire affected St John’s church, St Mary’s was brought back in to use temporarily for regular worship.

The proposal for St Mary’s is to adapt it for wider performance and community uses to complement the ministry at St John’s Church.

The main ideas are to open up the main church space, install an efficient and sustainable heating system, renew the flooring, provide flexible seating, staging and storage for all types of events, including theatrical and arts shows, build a café and use the building also as a venue for public meetings, an office for charities and possibly a tourist information centre.

Residents will also be able to hire the church as a venue for receptions after weddings and baptisms and for wakes following funerals.

But the green light for St Mary’s comes with conditions, the main one of which is 80 per cent of the funding must be raised before work can start – which means raising £4 million.

“The building costs will be £3 million and the cost of fitting out the building could be £2 million,” said Mr Scorer.

The first fundraiser will be held in the church on January 22, when Dr Andrew Romsey, Bishop of Ramsbury, will give a 7pm talk on his new book, English Grounds: A Pastoral Journey. Tickets costing £10 are available from Devizes Books.

In June the church will see the first performance of a musical; The Invitation Theatre Company’s Sunshine On Leith, featuring the songs of The Proclaimers.

The trust is aiming to make the building carbon-neutral, by installing a heat pump and adding solar panels to the south roof. And although the altar and choir stalls will remain, many of the old pews will be sold off.

“We will sell them to anyone who makes us an offer,” said Mr Scorer.

“We will be looking at corporate funding, Lottery money and heritage funding and other ways of raising money including buy-a-brick and name-a-seat and if anyone wants to sponsor a room in their name we will be open to that too.”