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Community / Church targets old Anderson science block as new home

The science building at the old Anderson High School. Photo: Shetland News

A LOCAL church is keen to take on the science block at the old Anderson High School to transform it into a permanent base to “serve the community” from.

New Life Shetland is interested in the idea of a community asset transfer of the redundant building from owners Shetland Islands Council. It will hold a public meeting about its plans on 10 December at the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre in Lerwick at 7pm.

It proposes to renovate the building into a community cafe with a soft play area, as well as develop dedicated youth and children’s spaces.

A “significant space” would be used for the church’s programme of events, housing its congregation – while there is also potential to provide rooms for counselling and mental health support.

The science block is one of a handful of buildings due to be kept at the old school site, with the rest set to be demolished.

A masterplan for the Knab site sees a mixture of housing and other uses projected for the area, but how the retained buildings – which also includes the Anderson Educational Institute and the Bruce and Janet Courtney hostels – will be utilised is yet to be confirmed.

Pupils left the old school in October 2017 when the new Anderson opened near to the Clickimin.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 now allows community bodies to make requests to local authorities for assets that they feel they could make better use of, and New Life Shetland has pinpointed the old Anderson’s science block.

The Christian church, which is part of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal network, holds Sunday services in the Sandveien Neighbourhood Centre, while it also puts on prayer times, midweek home groups and sessions for youngsters.

Pastor John Rollo said the church has been looking for a permanent premises for a number of years, with New Life Shetland sometimes having to hire up to five venues a week to run its programme of events.

“We have grown quite significantly over the last couple of years and as a result the space that we use is becoming less suitable for us, particularly in the area of our Kidz Klub, our primary school programme,” he said.

“Not having a permanent venue can impede on consistency but we’ve always felt it important to keep in mind that a building is not our vision, but rather we would love a building to serve the vision we have which is to be a church that serves our local community.

“There are areas of community need that we feel we would be better placed to help with if we had permanent facilities to do so.”

Rollo explained that the church has “explored numerous options which had led to dead ends”.

He had previously discussed properties with the council and “it seemed that a lot of what we would be looking to do seems to fit in with previous consultation relating to the Knab masterplan”.

The pastor added that the science building – which is said to be in good condition – is of a similar size to what the church would look to have built.

Rollo said New Life Shetland running services from the science block would “serve many social outcomes”.

“The heart behind the project would be to serve the community of the Knab and the wider community of Shetland,” he said.

It is up to the asset applicant to provide evidence as to why they feel the transfer would be of benefit to the community before the building owner makes a decision.

Manager of assets, commissioning and procurement at the SIC Robert Sinclair said: “Shetland Islands Council is willing to discuss asset transfer with any properly constituted community organisations who want to improve outcomes for people in their community.”

During the Knab masterplan consultation phase, potential uses of the science block suggested by members of the community included space for the local gymnastics club or a facility for business start-ups.

The most significant example of an asset transfer in Shetland under the new legislation is the Community Development Company of Nesting’s recent purchase of the village’s Aald Skül.

The dormant property, which was acquired from Shetland Islands Council, is set to be transformed into a multi-purpose space for the community.

Unst Partnership, meanwhile, purchased the unit it leased from Highlands and Islands Enterprise in Baltasound through the scheme last year to enable it to create a second-hand shop.

More information on how the community asset transfer process works locally can be found here.