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Community / Members of community keen to explore Hillswick Kirk takeover

The building went on sale earlier this month because it was not in fit state to reopen, Church of Scotland minister says

Inside the Hillswick kirk. Photo: Church of Scotland

THERE is concern in the community over the proposed sale of the Hillswick Kirk – with an apparent lack of consultation with the general community taking some folk by surprise.

Local resident Tom Morton has now started a Friends of the Hillswick Kirk Facebook page to discuss possible future community uses of the 150-year-old building.

In a letter to Shetland News, he said he has asked Church of Scotland to take the kirk off the market until a community proposal can be explored.

As part of Church of Scotland’s plans to close 20 kirks in the isles, the 150-year-old building went on the market earlier this month with an asking price of offers over £40,000.

Transition minister Rev Dr Frances Henderson, however, told BBC Radio Shetland that the decision to put the church on the market at this stage was because its declining condition meant it was unable to reopen.

Photo: Church of Scotland.

It has been known for more than two years that the Hillswick kirk was due to go up for sale at some point, but the timing has taken some by surprise.

Church of Scotland did say last year, however, that the kirk was scheduled to close in 2021/22.

“After lockdown when all our churches were closed, when we visited Hillswick Church with a view to reopening it, we discovered that the building had deteriorated quite a bit in condition,” Henderson said.

She said there was damp, mould and infestation of woodlice. “We concluded then…that the church would not pass the Church of Scotland healthy and safety guidance”.

Henderson described it as a “really reluctant decision” – with a wedding planned for May in the kirk, for example.

She said once the decision was made not to reopen, a letter was sent to all church members in Northmavine, and the local community council was informed too.

There were online consultations with other church closures in Shetland last year but this did not take place for Hillswick.

Henderson said the online consultations – a replacement for public meetings in the Covid era – were “useful to a point”, but the information was “all coming in one direction” with most submissions anonymous.

She said the Church of Scotland has worked closely with community groups who may be interested in taking on kirks and have given them advice.

Morton encouraged anyone with ideas about the possible future use of the church to get involved with the Friends of the Hillswick Kirk Facebook page.

“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,” he said.

“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.”