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September 24, 2008

Scotland’s Craft Town set to breathe new life into former church

The Church of Scotland is concerned that many of its rural church buildings are at risk as a result of being underused. One such building in West Kilbride has lain empty for 30 years. But not for much longer. The community has plans for it to become a major exhibition centre and space for artists’ studios


HUNDREDS of threatened rural churches could be “recycled” and brought into active use by local communities, a major conference heard yesterday.

The Church Buildings Renewal Trust is investigating ways in which out-of-use, and often decaying churches can be converted and used as community facilities.

It is the first time that the trust, which was founded in 1994 by the Church of Scotland to consider how to deal with its under-threat and under-used buildings and those of other denominations, has turned its attention to the fate of Scotland’s rural churches, of which it estimates there are several hundred under threat.

Yesterday’s conference, entitled The Use and Re-use of Rural Church Buildings held at St Andrew’s in the Square in Glasgow, heard some “provocative” proposals for adapting church buildings so they can be used by the public in ways other than as places of worship.

One of the proposals is to implement sharing arrangements in which churches would be used to house its congregations but put to other community use during the week.

Tim Parker, director of CBRT and depute secretary of the Church of Scotland General Trustees, said: “All denominations have a large number of buildings and they are not able to support them all, so some have to go to the wall and we are trying to find new uses for them.
“But we also have church buildings which are only used for a couple of days during the week so the idea is to try to get other users involved so that the community can come to an arrangement where they can use the church on other days.
“Perhaps this can raise money to go back towards maintaining the church.”

It included various case studies from churches across Scotland which demonstrated how out-of-use buildings could be recycled to the benefit of the community and how new buildings could be purpose built with both the needs of church congregations and the wider community in mind.
The trust estimates that several hundred church buildings of all denominations could be under threat.

It is the first time that the annual CBRT conference has specifically set out to address the issues affecting out-of-use or under-used buildings in rural areas. The voluntary-run Trust has thus far operated in Glasgow only but it is hoped that it will expand to become a national operation.

David Martin, chairman of CBRT said: “Ultimately all church buildings are under threat and yet ultimately they are all also all a great opportunity. In Glasgow we’ve recycled about 60 church buildings since the Second World War. We have to demonstrate the value of a church to the community in order to persuade the funders that it is a worthwhile investment.”

He said that disused churches had been converted into community centres, some of which retain worship services on a Sunday, theatres, workshops, offices and even domestic properties.

Mr Martin added: “Abandoned churches can’t serve the community but with a bit of imagination they can be recycled. Churches are going to have to broaden their base. The church as a building and an institution must engage more with the community it’s trying to serve.
The community is not there to serve the church, the church is there to serve the community.”

The CBRT conference was aimed at stimulating ideas which those attending could take back to their congregations.

The Barony Church in West Kilbride, North Ayrshire, is to be converted and given a new lease of life. The building, which has lain empty and unused as a place of worship for 30 years, is to become an exhibition centre in the latest of a series of projects which have benefited the area.
The West Kilbride Community Initiative Ltd, a charity established in 1998, has helped to take a village in decline and turn it around, creating Craft Town Scotland.
By encouraging skilled craftspeople to take over derelict shops they were able to regenerate the town to the extent that in 2006 the Craft Town Project won the Enterprising Britain competition. It is hoped that the latest project will help attract the mass of visitors needed to ensure that the venture is sustainable, successful and saves a recognisable part of the local skyline.

Angus Kerr, a retired architect, who has been closely involved in the planned Barony Arts Centre project said: “We hope to see more visitors which will help our local rural economy and to encourage more crafts people. It will provide space for a series of artists in residence who will carry out teaching and demonstrations – education is very much part of the project – and we’ll save a very important listed church building.”