A congregation has been left “devastated” after thieves tore lead from the roof of a church for the second time in two years.

St Mary's Church, in Bluntisham, saw the south part of the building over the nave stripped on February 11, before thieves returned the following night to remove most of the rest of the nave roof.

This is the second time the church has been targeted in two years, with repairs for the first incident only having started late last year.

“I was absolutely devastated,” Sheila Anthony, church rector, said.

“We have a vision for this church of what it could be and we want to reorder the inside so we've got kitchens and loos. We had this project in mind, but when the first theft happened we were just about to start raising money for it and it took us away from what we were doing and we've had to focus on that.

“Here we are, two years later thinking, 'OK, this is now done and we can get on and get back to the project,' and then this happens.”

The church was awarded a government grant of £100,000 to repair the damage to the south roof from two years ago, and this has also gone into replacing old timber and drainage.

The rector added: “I don't know what we would have done because we couldn't have afforded it. If we hadn't had that money we would've been in a mess, and now even more with this.”

It's not yet known how much the new damage will cost the church, but the rector says the community is doing everything it can to pull together.

“The congregation are devastated but having got over the shock there is a real determination that we are not going to let this beat us, which is amazing.

“Lots of people have asked what they can do to help, which is wonderful. These aren't people who come to church, these are people from outside and the parish council have offered to help. A couple came to see me yesterday who do events and said they would help and raise money. It's just amazing what good has come out of this.”

The rector says cameras were put up by police in the weeks before the theft, and are currently being reviewed by police.

“It's a beautiful building. It's absolutely stunning,” she added.

“Anybody who's had any theft knows what the violation feels like, but you don't expect people to do that in a church, but they do. We have to be real.”

Cambridgeshire has been hit hard by church thefts in recent years, with lead stolen from St Mary's Church, in Godmanchester, and St Andrew's Church, in Swavesey, in 2011.

In November 2015, thousands of pounds worth of lead was stolen from All Saints Church, in Wickwick, before £3,000-worth was taken from St Swinthin's Church, in Old Weston, in February 2016.

St Mary's, in Bluntisham, will hold a circle gathering around the church on Sunday, at 3pm.