A radical change to Poole High Street’s landmark church is proposed to convert it into a lively centre for the whole community.

The Methodist Church, built in 1878, is deteriorating badly and has been closed for worship since the summer after a large section of plaster fell from a high wall.

Now a £4 million project is under way to revitalise the church and rebuild the tatty rear halls in the original chapel building, which dates from 1793.

“The church stands at the heart of the community and the planned changes will allow it to better serve the community, providing excellent accommodation to groups who could normally never afford such a high street location,” said Poole Methodist minister the Rev Fraser Smith.

Outside, the church would be improved with new gothic windows on the High Street, allowing passers-by to see in, and restoration of the upper floor windows, now filled with brown glass.

Inside, the traditional wooden pews would be swept away and the cavernous high-ceilinged building divided into two floors with worship above, incorporating the beautiful rose window.

The ground floor would include a small chapel, café area with soft play area, internet access and community meeting rooms.

A modern two-storey extension at the rear would replace the old chapel, whose meeting rooms are widely used as a popular drop-in café and by groups including the Dolphin Marching Band and Poole & Parkstone Players.

The church is already being approached by many groups wanting to be involved and help raise funds for the project, said the Rev Smith.

A planning application has been submitted to Borough of Poole, and if successful it would become the centre for Methodist worship in Poole, with some of the town’s other churches sold off to fund the project.

“We have to be able to use the best of whatever exists and make it even better for a modern generation,” said fellow Poole minister the Rev Dr Mark Kimber.

“It’s not about what we are giving up, it’s about what we are offering in the future,” he said.