CHURCHES are still being sold off in Cumbria as society becomes ever more secular...

Whatever your views on the religion and worship, the upside of this trend is that there are now regular opportunities for those with cash to spend to own some uniquely elegant and classy buildings, provided you don't mind the proximity of a graveyard.

Among the interesting clerical properties currently on the market locally are:

* Holy Trinity Church, West Seaton, Workington. Sitting on a 0.35 acre site, the church dates back to 1891 and is now regarded as "redundant."

It has an impressive high-vaulted ceiling and a tower. It was built with sandstone and - as you would expect - boasts several impressive stained glass windows. It is being marketed by Edwin Thompson with a guide price of £75,000.

* And St Leonard's Church, Warwick-on-Eden, Carlisle. In a private church yard, on the western outskirts of Warwick Bridge, St Leonard's is a listed building, once described by architectural historian N.Pevsner as "the most memorable Norman village church in Cumberland." Built in the 12th century, it has 19th and 20th century additions.

Also on the market with Edwin Thompson, its guide price is £75,000. Regarding its future use, the estate agent's summary states: "The property is suitable for uses falling within its current use classification – D1 non-residential institution which could include place of worship/communal gathering, clinic, crèche, day nursery, school, gallery or museum. From initial enquiries to Carlisle City Council Planning Department, it is also understood that it will be acceptable to change the use to a private dwelling, subject to the required planning consent(s).

Commenting, The Venerable Richard Pratt, Archdeacon of West Cumbria, took a pragmatic view of the sell-offs, pointing out that it made little sense to retain church buildings when they were far from fully used and when alternative worship venues were available.

"It's inescapably true that fewer people are going to church and I don't think that's a good thing.

"For a church to get on the market, there's quite a long process.

"There are a number of churches I could mention which are not for sale but will be; they're going through the process of formal closure.

"The west has been harder hit than the north and the south. Frankly, there were too many churches and that's been true forever."

Even as large churches were being built in the 19th century, there were not enough parishioners to fill them.

A key point, said the Archdeacon, is that the church is its community of believers, bound together by shared beliefs and values. It is not a building.

Among the Cumbrian churches recently sold was St Bees Methodist Church, on Main Street. It was sold by Auction House Cumbria, achieving a price of £71,000.

Four miles south of Whitehaven, and on

the fringe of the Lake District National Park, the sandstone property was said to be suitable for a variety of potential uses, subject to planning consent.

For an idea of what is possible with church conversion projects, you might want to look at a property currently for sale in Cliffe Lane, Barrow.

On the market with Corrie & Co Independent Estate Agents, this former church has been "sympathetically converted", retaining original beams and vaulted ceilings. It has two spacious reception rooms, four large bedrooms and a family kitchen. It is on the market with an asking price of £323,000.