AN historic chapel is set to be taken over by a new church congregation - but first centuries-old headstones and memorials must be hidden from view.

This would see fencing erected around the graveyard in the former Stand United Reformed Church, decking covering paved inscriptions and shutters for memorials inside the place of worship

Supporters of the Celestial Church have designs on the vacant grade II listed Stand Lane church, which was built in 1885 but is understood to have replaced an earlier chapel on the same site. Inscriptions on various memorials date back to the 18th century. One to a former deacon, John Holt, dates back to 1798.

The United Reformed Church sold its interests in the location to the new owners in 2019.

Planning consultant Helen Martin-Bacon said in a heritage statement: "As the doctrine of the Celestial Church requires that there is a clear separation between the dead and the living, it is proposed that a lightweight panel fence, with a central gate, is erected along the eastern side of the cemetery."

She has told borough planners that similarly raised decking would be required over dozens of horizontal paved memorials.

Ms Martin-Bacon said that while this would conceal them from view, she claimed a number were badly eroded.

Inside the old church, it is proposed that any memorial plaques be covered with wall frames, with doors allowing them to be viewed on request.

The original pews had been removed, added Ms Martin-Bacon, along with the carved pulpit as the applicants had not realised their significance to the building's listed status. Some pews remain though in the tiered eastern gallery.

Further works would see a communal area created in the existing basement, some internal maintenance on the ground floor and perimeter fencing.

The Celestial Church was founded in Benin, West Africa, in 1947 by Samuel Bilewu Joseph Oshoffa. There are churches in the Cheetham Hill, Harpurhey and Rusholme areas of Manchester.