A CARLISLE vicar has issued a heartfelt plea to bored youths, asking them to stop vandalising his parish's church community centre.

The Rev Matt Martinson says the wanton destruction that is being visited on the St Luke's community centre in Stonegarth, Morton, has cost thousands of pounds, and disrupted community activities.

It is also deeply upsetting elderly parishoners, who have always regarded the hall as a vital part of their community - as well as a place of friendship and safety.

Over the last month, the hall has been targeted seven times.

The vandalism has included windows being shattered; a toilet inside the hall being smashed; and on one occasion a fleeing youth jumped from a roof on a car belonging to church warden Mal Brown, denting the bonnet.

At other times, the youths have played on the hall roof, smashing skylights, and deliberately tried to flood the hall toilets, filling them with whole toilet rolls.

"It's getting worse and worse," said the Rev Martinson, who is responsible for St Luke's, as well as St Barnabas Church and Holy Trinity Church in Carlisle.

He said he did not want a situation where churches are locked when not in use for security reasons.

"A church and its hall should be open at all times. It should be a place where people can go to for help; a place of refuge and safety. We've have seven incidents in the last three or four weeks and its costing thousands to put right.

"Our old people are absolutely upset by it; they're really scared about what has been happening.

"The church means everything to them. But this is just draining our resources, and means we can't spend the money we need for repairs on better things.

"The other aspect is that these incidents disrupt community activities at the hall.

"It's used for all sorts of things: zumba classes, keep-fit, a mums and toddlers group; so it doesn't just impact on us. We've had to cancel various events so we can get things sorted. So it affects the whole community here."

The Rev Martinson, who recently moved from Hull to begin his new ministry in Carlisle, which he regards as an amazing place, appealed directly to the youths involved, asking them to talk to him.

"We'd happily sit down and talk to them," he said. "We could see what we could do to help them. I'd also like to sit them down with some of our elderly people because they need to see what this had done to them.

"They've been really shaken up by it and I don't think these young people relise the repurcussions of what they are doing."

Mal added: "Forgiveness is a massive thing in a life of faith but at the same time people should be held accountable for their actions.