YOBS are skateboarding on tombstones, taking drugs, and playing loud music during services at Bolton Parish Church.
Graffiti has been daubed on a gravestone and youths have even scraped large initials into the moss on Samuel Crompton’s tomb.
Church warden Cllr John Walsh said he feared people were being prevented from visiting the church due to feeling intimidated by the often large groups of young people.
He said: “We are not trying to exclude people but it can be boisterous. I think people can feel intimidated when there are 30 to 60 youngsters there.
“We welcome people into the church but skateboarding on tombstones is not appropriate — there is a skate park in the town.
“We have some important tombstones including Samuel Crompton’s. When people are seen skateboarding and cycling off tombstones it is not nice.
“I think people come to the churchyard because alcohol is banned from open spaces and they think the church is off the beaten track.
“It upsets me. This is somewhere that should be shared as a place for quiet enjoyment for all age groups by people who do it in the right way.”
Cllr Walsh said the problems have been caused by people in their late teens. He has gone into the church grounds to challenge their behaviour but was verbally abused.
He said he regularly collects alcohol bottles and has found evidence of drug use.
People have daubed graffiti in the churchyard and a bench has had to be removed after it was vandalised.
He said the church has been working with police and Bolton Council to improve the situation.
It is hoped plans for the future will include a new CCTV system and shrubs being removed to prevent the grounds from being as secluded.
Police continue to patrol the area and warn that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.
Sgt Kevin Lister, from Bolton Central Integrated Neighbourhood Policing Team, is urging businesses in the town centre who are being subjected to anti-social behaviour to report it to the police.
He said: “We have spoken to various groups of people who gather within the town centre but it doesn’t seem to have had any effect.
“We have started a more pro-active phase now where we will contact the parents of people responsible and there have been arrests.
“The people involved are absolutely aware of what they are doing. There seems to be a disregard for other people where they are upsetting people who want to visit the church and go about their lives.
“There’s clearly young people coming into the town centre who aren’t engaging in anti-social behaviour and we want to make it safe for them.
“If parents are dropping children off in the town centre, are they aware their children are going into the church grounds and are they are aware drugs and alcohol are being taken?”
There have also been complaints about people gathering near the Fred Dibnah statue in Oxford Street.
Anyone affected by anti-social behaviour in Bolton town centre or who has information about the people responsible can call police on 0161 8565619.