Community / Development group keen to explore feasibility of turning Whalsay kirk into community space

The Whalsay kirk which is the subject of community interest.

A FEASIBILITY study may be carried out into whether one of Whalsay’s kirks could have a new life as a community hub.

The kirk in question is the one at Brough in the west of the island, which will be sold off by the Church of Scotland.

The Whalsay Kirk Development Group, which is now registered as a company, is behind the plans.

It has applied for funding from the Scottish Land Fund for a feasibility study into the proposal, with the group expecting to hear back soon.

This would include a structural survey of the old building, to see if it can be saved.

Chairperson Thelma Stearn said: “It’s going to be a really expensive project if we go ahead, which is why we’re wanting to have a really thorough feasibility study.

“We just see it being a community hub. It’s a very old historic building, and we’re very constrained because it’s also a listed building.”


There is still a desire to keep hosting marriages and funerals in the building.

The kirk is one of many churches earmarked for closure by the Church of Scotland, which is selling off two thirds of its Shetland estate in phases.

Whalsay folk have already been consulted by the group about ideas for the building – with a general community hub the favoured way forward.

Numerous ideas have been suggested for the space, from artist studios to self-catering bunk rooms.

But Stearn said it could even provide a place for people simply to go and have a coffee and read a book.

She also suggested it could tie in somehow with the popularity of the Houb in Whalsay with birdwatchers.

Photo © Oliver Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The church, which has a kirk yard still in use, closes over the winter due as its location – at the end of a piece of land stretching out into the water – can be difficult to access in icy weather.

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“It’s like everywhere else – it’s a small congregation,” Stearn said, “but a very dedicated congregation.”

Some other churches have successfully been taken over by their community, but perhaps the most transformative project has been the Bigton Kirk.

That has been reopened by the Bigton Collective as Hymhus, which features a second hand shop and spaces for events and exhibitions.

The latest church to go up for sale was the historic Tingwall Kirk, which is currently under offer.

Meanwhile planning permission was recently granted to a family for turning the Hillswick Kirk into a home.

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