THE BIGTON Collective community group’s project to buy the local kirk has taken a step forward after it was awarded £64,000 from the Scottish Land Fund.
The fund has also been awarded a further £26,950 towards design fees, legal fees and project development.
The collective is keen to buy the Church of Scotland kirk, which is one of many in Shetland being sold off, and turn it into a multipurpose community facility.
It recently launched a fundraiser to generate extra cash for the project.
A business plan undertaken by the group includes offering hostel accommodation and café facilities in the building as well as flexible working and community spaces.
The Scottish Land Fund was founded in 2000 by the Scottish Government with the purpose of supporting communities to “become more resilient and sustainable through the ownership and management of land and land assets.”
Laura Whittall, co-founder of Bigton Collective, said: “This has been such a positive experience. We whole-heartedly agree with the ethos and values of the Scottish Land Fund.
“If the aim is to empower communities, it is working. We can’t speak highly enough of our advisors, who not only demand high standards and attention to detail but appreciate that we are all volunteers.
“This is a great example of grassroots development; we certainly feel more organised, confident and connected as a result of this process.”
Bigton resident Alex Armitage added: “The kirk building is in good condition – a testament to the care with which it was constructed over 100 years ago.
“It was built by local Bigton folk with stones from a nearby quarry which were transported by horse and cart.
“With community ownership, this wonderful building could continue as a social and spiritual centre for our community for generations to come.
“In a world disrupted by the Covid pandemic and now threatened by climate change, it’s more important than ever that we develop security and resilience within our local communities, building connections with one another.
“We are so proud of our diverse and proactive community. Through the process of coming together with the common purpose of saving our local church, we have discovered so many hidden talents amongst ourselves, our friends and neighbours.
“We hope that all communities in Shetland feel empowered to do the same”.
The Church of Scotland is in the process of selling 20 kirks in Shetland as it cuts the size of its estate in the isles.
The Bigton Collective said it has no formal guarantee that its offer will be accepted, but the Church of Scotland will welcome a bid.
A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: “The Church of Scotland is planning to put the South Mainland Kirk building on the open market in November and will welcome a bid from the Bigton Collective.
“The Church is obliged as a charity to seek a fair market value for its buildings. However the Church does not always sell to the highest bidder but will consider the proposed use of the building and any benefit to the community when deciding which bid to accept.”
Bigton Collective co-founder Alice Ritch said: “Our community could never be expected to compete on financial terms with a wealthy individual or property development company.
“We are so glad that the Church of Scotland have explicitly stated that they would value community benefit when deciding which bid to accept”.
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