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Community / Removal of pews given go-ahead despite petition

St Magnus Church in Yell. Photo © 2019 Google

A PROPOSAL to remove the pews from a church in Yell and replace them with chairs to allow the building to be used for different activities has received planning permission despite concern in the community.

Nearly 80 local people signed a petition objecting to the plans as they felt it would have an adverse impact on the character of the St Magnus Church and decrease its seating capacity.

The application was submitted last year by elder William John Anderson in the name of the Church of Scotland after the building, located in the south of Yell at Hamnavoe, was designated for closure.

Around two thirds of Shetland’s Church of Scotland kirks are due to close over the next three years.

The St Magnus congregation decided they would try to buy the church and use it as a community asset, while at the same time still offering a venue for worship, weddings and funerals, although it is unclear when the building could change hands.

Anderson said removing the wooden pews would “do the building justice and allow it to be used for other purposes”.

He added that it would be easier to get people out of the building in case of emergency if they are seated in chairs rather than pews, and that access to under floor power points and switches would be easier with chairs.

Anderson said in his application that the removed pews could be sold on, while a new wooden floor would also be installed in the church. Tables could also be used in the building.

The B-listed church, which is surrounded by a graveyard, was built in 1838 and it was renovated in 2009.

The new plans, however, came up against scores of local residents who supported the purchase of the church by the community but did not wish for the pews to be removed.

“The church is part of the community so the community should have some say in what happens inside it,” they said.

“A decision like this should not be left to a few individuals without consulting the community.”

Their petition said that removing the pews would “considerably decrease” seating capacity – meaning that large events like funerals may not be able to be held there.

They argued that the “pews are part of the character of this beautiful church – to remove them would take away a certain appeal”.

The petitioners also said that chairs could be dangerous as folk could catch their feet on the legs when exiting.

Shetland Islands Council planners have now granted the application, saying the proposal complies with the Shetland Local Development Plan.

“The Historic Environment Scotland listing states that the interior appears to be remodelled and therefore not original to the building,” they wrote.

“The removal of the pews will benefit the building, in that it will allow the building to be used for a variety of activities and still a place of worship for the whole community.

“While the pews are seen as part of the character of the church, they are not original and would not result in the loss of any feature which is of special architectural or historic interest.”

Shetland News attempted to contact Anderson for comment but he was unavailable.