Catholics campaigning for a new faith school today said they had been overwhelmed by “absolutely amazing” support from residents and church leaders.

The Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, has backed parents and urged them “not to give up hope”, and the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, also joined their calls this week.

Churchgoers handed a petition with 1,105 signatures to Richmond Council calling for it to give one of two new secondary schools to the Catholic Church.

But the South West London Humanists (SWLH) and the Accord coalition, which includes religious groups from different faiths, said the plan was “socially divisive”.

Monsignor William Saunders, a former private secretary to the Archbishop of Southwark and parish priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, in Sheen Road, Richmond, this week offered his support to Catholic parents.

He said: “I am very well aware of the deep concern of local Catholic parents who want a Catholic secondary education for their children once they leave the excellent, oversubscribed Catholic primary schools in the borough.”

Richmond is currently one of two London boroughs without a Catholic secondary school.

Christine Brett, headteacher of St Elizabeth's Catholic Primary School, in Queen's Road, Richmond, said: “Church schools have a wonderful record of educating young people within a strong moral and faith framework and of ensuring that young people grow in knowledge and understanding of others - respectful and able to engage with a broad cross section of society.”

The Diocese of Westminster said it would work to find an “imaginative” way to raise funding and locate a suitable site for the project.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Westminster said: “The Diocese of Westminster is delighted that many people support our long term aspiration for a maintained Catholic secondary school to be established in the borough of Richmond.

“The two obstacles in the way are the lack of a current site and the lack of capital funding. We continue to work actively with the Archdiocese of Southwark and the borough of Richmond to look for any opportunities to remove these obstacles or to find an imaginative way around them.”

The council hopes to build two new secondary schools by 2015.

It is also due to launch an online survey asking parents and students for their opinions about sixth forms in a bid to assess demand.

On the streets On the streets of Twickenham this week many were not convinced by the idea of a faith school for the borough.

David MacDonald, 66, of Strawberry Hill, said: “I don’t think faith schools should be actively encouraged as they can have a divisive effect in the long term. I’m not against them either - it can be good for a school to have a strong central ethos.”

Craig Mundy, 53, of Hampton Hill, said: “We need more schools in the area, particularly for boys, but why Catholic? I am not a Catholic but if I had to go to church to get my two boys into a good school, I would.”

Eugene Gayer, 59, of Twickenham, said: “I go to a Catholic church but wouldn’t mind my children going to a non-faith school, they all learn religious education anyway. I don’t believe in mixing religion and politics, so state schools should not favour children of one religion over another.”

What do you think of the idea? Call Paul Teed on 020 8744 4275 or email