OUTLINE plans have been drawn up by a community group to potentially convert Hillswick Kirk into a public worship, performance and exhibition space and two apartments.
But the Church of Scotland’s communication with the group has been criticised after it backtracked on an announcement last week that the building was due to go back on the public market.
A spokesperson for the Church of Scotland confirmed to Shetland News on Wednesday that it has agreed to keep the historic building off the market until mid-August to give the Friends of the Hillswick Kirk group more time to work in its plans.
Local resident Tom Morton, who is among those leading the group, believes the communication over the potential sale could be much better.
“Dealing with the Church of Scotland is like trying to juggle with living mackerel,” he said. “In a Shetland Model during a force eight gale.”
The large kirk, built in 1869, went on the market in March for offers over £40,000 in a move which took some of the local community by surprise.
The church said it was listed at this stage because of its deteriorating condition, and there were claims of a lack of consultation.
But its listing was soon removed for three months to allow a community group to form and work on a possible bid for the building.
Last week the Church of Scotland said the three months had come to an end, and the building was going back on the market. But that stance has now changed, with a few more weeks being added on.
Friends of the Hillswick Kirk now has outline plans for an alteration to the building. “However, this was pre-empted by an announcement from the Church of Scotland that the building was going back on the market,” the group said on Facebook.
Church of Scotland, meanwhile, is continuing with its phased plans to sell off a number of its buildings in Shetland.
Among those to be sold off next include Sandness, Voe and Cunningsburgh.
In the next phase, due to begin in 2022, Lunna Kirk – the oldest church still in use in Shetland – will be sold.
Tingwall, Whalsay (Brough), Out Skerries, Dunrossness and Gulberwick will also feature in this phase.
The first phase is nearly complete, and it has led to the sales of churches in Sullom, Quarff, Sand, Bressay and Weisdale.
The community group Friends of Fetlar Kirk has successfully bid for Fetlar Church, and the property is currently under offer.
There are also negotiations with the Yell community group over the island’s St Magnus church building. The Church of Scotland has also been working with community groups at Bigton and Fair Isle.
The Rev. Fran Henderson said: “We are always glad to work with any community group which might be interested in purchasing one of our buildings, and are really pleased that this is working out for several such groups.
“Any such community group has to register as a business or charity, conduct community surveys, and draw up a business plan. This can be a long and complex process, so if a community is interested, then I urge them to get started immediately.
“They should also get in touch with us as soon as possible, and not wait until the building is about to go on the market.”
In October 2018, the Presbytery of Shetland voted to unite all 13 parishes into one parish, now known as Shetland Church of Scotland, and to unite with the Presbytery of Aberdeen.
As part of this process the church made the decision to sell 20 of its kirks in Shetland.
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