A church which faces closure could become a religious conference centre.

Worshippers fear historic St Leonard's Church in Hove could be lost forever as part of a review of the future of churches in Brighton and Hove.

They will hold a public meeting next week as part of their bid save the building in New Church Road from closure.

But the Rev Stephen Terry has told The Argus that although services at the church may end, the building would be kept.

Mr Terry said: "The church building will remain and as I understand it will be put to alternative church use. As far as I am aware, the graveyard will be left unaltered.

"As one of the options, I can see the church building being used as a conference centre for the diocese. It is next to Diocesan Church House and with some internal work could make a very good place to hold conferences.

"There are large events such as the Diocesan Synod which is constantly looking for places to meet. If we had a conference centre, all these things could be brought on to one site."

St Leonard's has been used as a site for religious worship since 1246 and is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The church has been rebuilt a number of times, the last in 1878.

St Leonard's is also the last church in Hove to retain its bells while others have replaced them with recorded peels.

Its future is at risk after the Church of England recommended that the number of churches in Brighton and Hove should be cut from 54 to 44.

An initial review recommended that St Leonard's should be retained while nearby St Philip's was placed on the "at risk" list.

The 50 members of St Leonard's congregation were stunned when a second review reversed that position and recommended it should close instead of St Philip's.

On Tuesday, The Argus highlighted their campaign to save the church which is a popular venue for weddings because of its picturesque porch.

Margaret Lyons, who has worshipped at St Leonard's for 20 years, said: "I think we were a bit complacent because we did not think the church was even at risk.

"We thought we did not have anything to worry about and it was a shock when the report recommended it should close."

She was joined by Jenny Campbell who is District Commissioner for the Girl Guides and has run uniformed youth groups at St Leonard's for 30 years.

Mrs Campbell said: "I don't think the people of Hove are aware that St Leonard's could close. We need to make them aware and then at least I will feel that we have done all that is humanely possible to save it."

Mr Terry, who has been team rector of both churches for 16 years, said the Parochial Church Council had voted by eight to three to accept the second review report's recommendation that St Leonard's should be the church to close.

He said: "I did not take part in the decision because I did not feel it appropriate. However, the community profile of St Philip's is greater and more active while St Leonard's has financial difficulties.

"It costs around £400 a week to run the church, which includes a contribution to my wages. St Leonard's also owes £67,000 to the diocese in unpaid contributions."

A spokesman for Chichester Diocese said the report on the second review was with Bishop John Hind who would make a decision in due course.

The spokesman added: "A lot of churches may be affected by any final decision but the process is a long one. The Bishop will listen to any comments parishioners may wish to make as part of that process."

The Friends of St Leonard's will hold a public meeting in support of their campaign against closure at the church tomorrow at 7pm.