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October 8, 2008

Community to build church out of rubbish

Faced with the challenge of finding themselves a new place of worship after their church building had been condemned as below tolerable standards, a congregation at Colston Milton have turned conventional wisdom on its head by deciding to build themselves a new church made out of waste

Craig Brown

OLD tyres, beer cans, wood off-cuts and discarded rubble may not be the most divine of materials, but they might be used to construct Scotland’s greenest church.
Parishioners have secured funds for a study to look at building a new place of worship out of the contents of landfill sites.

The congregation of Colston Milton Parish Church in Glasgow has received a £42,809 grant to carry out a feasibility study on constructing an ecologically and environmentally sustainable church using recovered rubbish.

The plan came about after the minister, the Rev Christopher Rowe, was told by the Church of Scotland’s Board of Trustees that the building needed replacing. “We were already facing energy bills of £8,000 and we were told that the building did not even have a medium-term life-span,” he said. “I proposed the idea of building an ecologically-sound church to the congregation and they thought it was fantastic.”

With the help of an architect, a proposal was put to the Kirk, which gave the green light to the project, followed by an approach to the Scottish Government’s Scottish Climate Challenge Fund, which awarded the funding to carry out the feasibility study.

The design will be based on the Earthship template, an eco-design developed in the United States during the 1970s using natural and recycled materials and built by the owners themselves, relying on natural-generated heating. Several examples have already been in Scotland.

If it is given the go-ahead, the congregation hopes to begin construction next spring.

Mr Rowe said: “A wonderful group of men and women who drink in the woods got inspired by the idea, so they started bringing their empty beer cans to the manse to use in the new building.”

The cost of the project is estimated to be between £500,000 and £750,000 for a building that will include worship space, meeting rooms and a cafe, compared with a starting price of £1.5 million for a more traditional structure.

“In a conventional building project, all the money goes straight into the pocket of big construction companies,” said Mr Rowe. “By using simple construction methods, we hope that local people will actually build the building themselves. It will be built by them, and owned by them, and used by them. It would be a church built by the community, for the community.”

Sarah Sutherland, vice-chair of the Scottish Ecological Design Association, said: “There isn’t a viable use for car tyres, so it’s better to see them being used in this way than dumped in landfill sites. It’s great that people are looking to do something different. It will encourage other groups to consider this type of design.”


THE Climate Challenge Fund was established in June this year to support community-led action to reduce carbon emissions. The £18.8 million fund is open to a wide variety of organisations working at a local level for projects such as energy efficiency, encouraging people to walk and cycle more, or using local, sustainable food. It is part of a wide range of efforts by Holyrood to reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.