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Community / Family behind Hillswick Kirk conversion plans keen to get started

Image: Malcolmson Architects

THE NEW owners of the historic Hillswick Kirk say they “cannot wait” to get started on plans to turn the building into a five bedroom family home.

Stuart and Karen Cotterell have lodged plans for the B-listed building after purchasing the kirk, which has stood in its current form since the 1800s.

It was sold off by Church of Scotland as part of plans to reduce its estate in Shetland, with parts of the Hillswick kirk said to be in a deteriorating condition.

A group was established to look into community ownership of the building, but there was not enough interest to result in a bid.

But the church – which is something of a landmark of the Hillswick area and had an asking price of offers over £40,000 – is set for a new lease of life as a family home.

Stuart Cotterell, 44, whose wife Karen grew up in Brae, said the family have wanted to strengthen their connection to Shetland for some time.

The couple and their three children – aged ten, eight and five – currently live in the Central Belt, about halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. For work reasons they are likely to keep a base south as well, and will split time between Shetland and the mainland as needed.

Image: Malcolmson Architects

“While we visit as often as we can with our kids, having a home here is a huge part of building the connection,” Cotterell told Shetland News.

“As for the church itself – I can remember taking the kids to Hillswick to visit the wildlife sanctuary and St Magnus Bay Hotel, and feeling that it is a special place.

“When the opportunity arose for the kirk, it just felt right – even though it’s a daunting job.”

Plans have been drawn up by local firm Malcolmson Architects, and it sees the ground floor transformed into an open plan living area, with some bedrooms downstairs as well as upstairs.

Photo: Church of Scotland.

The plan is to carry out essential repairs to the building, which is said to be at risk of “failing into severe disrepair” if a new use is not found, and bring it up to modern standards.

A condition report compiled by Arch Henderson last year said while building appears to be structurally sound and in relatively good condition, there are defects resulting from damp, moisture, water ingress and inadequate ventilation and heating.

Cotterell said the couple are itching to get going after a fairly lengthy process to buy the building.

He said they supported a community buyout but stepped in with a bid when the plans failed to materialise. 

“It’s taken over six months to get the plans in place, and there’s a period now where comments and feedback will be received and considered,” Cotterell added.

“As the building is listed, we’re unable to make any changes at all until we have approval.

“We just need to be patient – as much as we want to get started, it’s an important building that’ll be here much longer than we will, so following the right process and doing things in the right way is hugely important.”

Inside the Hillswick kirk. Photo: Church of Scotland