STUDENTS had the rare chance to go hands-on with the million-pound conservation effort of an ancient Lydiard Park church.

World-renowned conservator Jane Rutherfoord picked 24 volunteers out of hundreds studying conservation courses who applied to spend their summer on a work experience placement unlike any other.

Team members from Switzerland, America, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Italy and England spent between four to 10 weeks each carefully carrying out painstaking work on St Mary's Church.

Ms Rutherfoord oversaw their efforts with conservator co-lead Eddie Sinclair.

Angela Walther, 33, from Switzerland said: “It was wonderful being here because it was a unique opportunity for us to get practical experience of conservation work.

“There are so many highlights that it’s difficult to pick just one but the most rewarding part is when you learn how to use new tools, it’s very valuable.

“It’s hard physical work and the days were long but it was really rewarding.”

The students just finished their placements but conservation work will continue until mid-2020. Worshippers and couples could still use the church on weekends for Sunday services and weddings.

The three tiers of scaffolding will be taken down by early October so that the public can pop in to admire the surviving Tudor paintings and re-guilded King James I and VI Royal Coat of Arms.

Other highlights include an unusual painting of a blond and beardless Christ, and a painting of the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett

The project’s chairman Paul Gardner said: “It's quite apposite because Thomas challenged the absolute abuse of power and history is now repeating itself

"This is going to look really special when it’s all finished. We will be able to see what pilgrims and travellers saw 600 years ago.

“We received £340,000 for the project from charities, grants, the public and private individuals, and have been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"The idea is to bring back our unique collection of wall paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries.

“I’d like to thank the group for all their hard work which will last for the next millennium.”