Community / Papa Stour kirk restoration moves forward as contractors get to work

Work has been taking place on the exterior as well as the interior. Photo: Papa Stour History and Community Group

PROGRESS is being made on a major redevelopment of the historic kirk on the island of Papa Stour, which is set to act as a centre for the community and visitors for years to come.

The local history and community group bought the building – which is more than 200 years old – from the Church of Scotland in 2016, but funding issues and the Covid pandemic has delayed redevelopment plans.

The project is fairly significant – funding worth hundreds of thousands is involved – and it will cover two phases.

The first phase, which is now ongoing, is to make the historic building wind and watertight. Inside it is back to the bare walls – its construction date of 1806 is etched in plaster at an altar window – and outside the roof is being repaired and re-slated.

Papa Stour History and Community Group treasurer Pete Bardell said he was “delighted” contractors LTM Group are on site.


The Stirling company previously worked on Lerwick Town Hall and Belmont House in Unst. Its workers are accommodated in Papa Stour when they are on the island.

It is an island which last year had a permanent population of just seven, although there are many more local families who have links and travel regularly in and out of the island.

It is not going to be a quick job, as Bardell said that the kirk’s walls are “saturated” and need to stand for around a year to dry out.

“They reckon stone dries an inch a month,” he said. “So if you’ve got walls that are two feet thick, that’s 12 inches drying to either side, so it takes a year. Some of the walls are thicker than that.”

The Papa Stour kirk, pre-renovation. Photo: Papa Stour History and Community Group

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The first phase of work is due to finish by the end of July, with the second – which will include work like lining and rewiring the interior, and upgrading toilet facilities – expected to start in 2024.

“The bellcote is being reconstructed and will be rebuilt, and the bell is being refurbished. It’s down south at the moment,” Bardell said.

The project – which is being overseen by James F Stephen Architects from Glamis – previously secured a hefty grant of £250,000 from the Scottish Government’s islands programme, and it has also been supported by the local Coastal Communities fund, Historic Environment Scotland and Shetland Charitable Trust.

Bardell also paid tribute to the council’s community development and economic development team, as “without them this wouldn’t be happening”.

The finished product should give the small community of Papa Stour and its visitors a comfortable central meeting space, given that there is no public hall.


But despite its future community use, it will still act as a church.

“Once this job is finished, the vision is that it will remain a kirk – it will always be Papa Stour kirk – but it will also be a community centre and a visitor centre,” Bardell said.

“There’s no other community building on Papa Stour – there’s no public hall – so it’s important that the community has a place to meet, and somewhere that’s warm and dry, and not a draughty, damp old kirk. And it will be a great place to welcome visitors.”

He also said the island – accessible by a 40 minute ferry – gets a lot of visitors from places like New Zealand, America and Canada from people looking to explore their family history.

“We want to develop the genealogy side of it, but we need a building. We need to be able to do it somewhere, and that building will provide that opportunity.”


Before that, though, there stands to be another round of fundraising before the second phase of the restoration gets underway.

The present kirk was built in 1806, when there were more than 300 people living in Papa Stour. 

The Church of Scotland administered the kirk and a permanent minister lived on the island for many years. 

But in July 2015 the church no longer had any members in Papa Stour and a decision was taken to deconsecrate the kirk, which was in poor condition.

The Church of Scotland has been selling off a number of its buildings in Shetland over the last few years, with some moving into the hands of the community.

One of the most prevalent examples of this is the Bigton church being reworked into Hymhus, a community facility which also includes a second-hand shop and space to host concerts.

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