FOR the first time in 14 years, the doors of an historic Kates Hill church have been opened to the public.

Hundreds of people gathered at the grade II listed St John's Church on Wednesday to see the Archdeacon of Dudley hand the keys over to a jubilant St John's Church Preservation Group.

The campaigners have been fighting to save the building for nine years and finally became leaseholders on July 27 - exactly 176 years since the church was opened.

Visitors were serenaded by the Blackheath Ukelele Collective as they entered the building - which has been closed to the public since November 2002 - to see what work must be done to restore it to its former glory.

Preservation group chairman, Deb Brownlee, said: "The event exceeded even our greatest hopes, with people having to wait nearly an hour to get into the building because of the numbers.

"We encouraged people to take films and photographs, and this was a day that none of us will ever forget. We can only gratefully thank everyone who stayed with this cause for nine long years, they held the faith that we would get there, and we did".

The church will be open daily between 10am to 4pm from September 12, so visitors can see the restoration work take place.

Once the work is complete, the group aim to hold six Anglican services a year at the church and hope to draw people in with guided tours.

A number of voluntary positions will be up for grabs, including tea makers, flower arrangers, tour guides, cleaners, litter pickers and IT savvy people to run a Community Information point.

To boost funds to keep the project ticking over, the group is holding a weekly jumble sale on Fridays at the Old School House between 10am and 4.30pm.

They also have a stall at Dudley Market on Saturdays, selling a variety of books and filter coffee in addition to a tombola, pick a peg and lucky dip games.

Donations of clothes, shoes and handbags will be gratefully received, as will stationery, toiletries, gift sets, toys, candles, mugs and cups and saucers.

Donations can be sent to St John's Church Preservation Group, The Old School House, St John's Road, Kates Hill, Dudley, DY2 7JT.

Anyone interested in volunteering should email or call 07871195042.