Britain’s oldest in-use synagogue has been given £221,000 of National Lottery money to develop plans for a major project to improve access and facilities showcasing previously un-displayed collections.

Those behind Grade I listed Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London, first used by some of London’s first Sephardi Jews in 1701, are hoping to use the grant to scope plans for further works costing £4.6 million.

If successful, the next grant – available in 2019 – would pay for new staff and an activity programme described as “a step-change in operation and heritage management” in order to “reach out to a wider community with a rich and engaging educational programme” and “dramatically increase visitor numbers”.

Entrance to the synagogue is currently £5 per person, and this site is administered by the S&P Sephardi Community (Spanish & Portuguese community), whose senior rabbi this week said he was “hugely encouraged” by news of the grant.

“The story of the Jewish people in the UK begins at Bevis Marks and every British Jew should see it at least once,” said Senior Rabbi Joseph Dweck.

“With the HLF grant we will be able to showcase the many personalities, artefacts and stories that form the fabric of Sephardi Jewry in the country and that laid the foundations of Jewish life here.”

Changing demographics means most Sephardi Jews have moved to homes outside the City of London, but while the synagogue has faced a constant threat of closure, the community has remained faithful, and the shul has seen continual services.

S&P director Alison Rosen said: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. Bevis Marks has been both a religious centre and heritage site for over 300 years, with this grant we hope to be able to both preserve and increase its presence and functionality for another century and more.”