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Community / Plans afoot to revive Bigton Kirk’s role in the community

It is one of seven social enterprise projects chosen for assistance from LaunchMe

An aerial shot of the Bigton Kirk. Photo: George Irvine

A NEW collective created to breathe new life into a South Mainland kirk has been chosen as one of seven Scottish projects to receive support from a national body aimed at helping social enterprises get off the ground.

The Bigton Collective has been selected to participate in LaunchMe, a “social enterprise accelerator” backed by the Scottish Government, HIE and Barclays which helps projects to get “investment ready” and to apply for funding.

Alice Mullay, one of those involved in the collective since it was formed in October 2020, said the aim was to remodel the Bigton Kirk into a multipurpose space promoting arts, health and wellbeing.

A full feasibility study is being conducted by the Bigton Hall committee in partnership with Community Enterprise and CASE Shetland, while the collective is also consulting the local community for ideas about how the building might best be used.

It is one of several kirk buildings in line to be sold by the Church of Scotland. Photo: CASE Shetland.

Last year the Church of Scotland announced the Bigton Kirk was one of several buildings it intends to sell.

Ideas under consideration include converting part of the kirk into visitor accommodation and office space. A host of other activities could include pop-up cafes, exhibitions, workshops, retreats, drama, film, arts, crafts, therapeutic activities, musical performances, weddings, funerals and more besides.

Mullay said: “We’re hoping that if we’re able to develop the kirk building it would be a collaborative thing with the hall – the two places would really complement each other.”

With more folk working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mullay said some people were “feeling isolated” and might benefit from a shared office and meeting space.

She continued: “The strongest idea at the moment seems to be some kind of visitor accommodation. Bigton is such a lovely place to come for group activities, arts and crafts, wellbeing weekends. It could be great for backpackers and walkers, folk looking for somewhere not too expensive to stay.

“We’re really, really keen to have the building used by the community as flexibly and to get as many folk involved as possible.”

Since it was founded in 2014 LaunchMe has helped 37 social enterprises to grow and increase their impact.

Delivered by social enterprise start-up agency Firstport, LaunchMe supplies initial seed funding and enables participants to apply for grant funding to match any private and institutional investments they are able to secure.

HIE’s head of social enterprise development Margaret McSporran said it was “great to see” so many Highlands and Islands projects participating in LaunchMe and “we look forward to seeing how this helps our social enterprises strengthen their role in our region’s recovery and brings benefits to rural communities”.

Meanwhile, the Bigton Collective is planning to host a few wellbeing days in June for groups or businesses of five to seven people.

The Bigton Collective is conducting a survey to gather ideas. Photo: CASE Shetland.

The days will consist of a range of outdoor activities, with tea breaks and lunch provided, and will “offer a great chance for folk to reconnect after a year of Covid – rejuvenate, relax and gain a boost of inspiration”, Alice added.

The Bigton Collective has also been running online Zoom social calls featuring chats, musical items and monthly creative challenges during the Covid-19 crisis.

Anyone who wishes to complete a survey relating to the future of the Bigton Kirk can do so here. You can find out more about the Bigton Collective here.