The sudden appearance of “for sale” signs in the Hillswick Kirk windows has upset and confused many local folk, myself included.
Although we had been aware for two years that the Church of Scotland had decided to sell the 150-year old building, one of the biggest and most prominent in the isles, many of us had anticipated a period of consultation with the local community regarding possible uses for the old kirk, which occupies an important place in the culture and history of Northmavine.
While this did happen elsewhere, no such consultation took place in Northmavine. I am assured by Rev Dr Henderson that members and adherents were contacted and that while the intention was to open the church building once Covid-19 regulations permitted, an inspection indicated that it was now in such poor condition that the building no longer met Church of Scotland health and safety requirements. A long-planned wedding in May has now had to be moved elsewhere, and the decision was taken to sell the building as soon as possible.
Dr Henderson has offered to meet with and advise any community group interested in taking on the building.
I have been in touch with the Church of Scotland legal department to request that the kirk be taken off the market while such a proposal is explored.
I have written to the Northmavine Community Development Company, which has indicated an unwillingness to become directly involved in purchasing the building, while offering support and advice to any local community group set up to buy and run the kirk as an asset for local people.
I have asked formally that NCDC, as a gesture to any local purchaser, commission a structural survey, but have received no response so far to this request.
In association with other interested local people, a Friends of the Hillswick Kirk Facebook page has been set up and I would invite anyone concerned about the building’s future to ‘like’ it and make suggestions for future uses.
It seems generally felt that maintaining the building for multi-faith worship, weddings and funerals must remain paramount, but other functions that do not compete with local resources such as the hall, art gallery and hotel should also be considered.
It may be that the building is indeed in such a sorry state that any community takeover would be fraught with peril.
Nevertheless I think we should at least be given the opportunity to preserve and develop what is a major part of Northmavine history and a dominant structure in the village of Hillswick.