By LOUISE THOMASON
REFURBISHMENTS to St Columba’s Church in Lerwick are almost complete.
The renovation, undertaken by Irvine Contractors and overseen by Peter Johnson Partnership architects, has seen the “Big Kirk” transformed.
The Church of Scotland had to take a decision on what to do about the church and St Olaf’s Hall, which both had spiralling running costs. They decided the best option would be to sell the hall, with proceeds going to refurbishing the church.
As well as the sale, a multitude of charitable donations and fundraising events helped with the costs. Steering group chairwoman Kathleen Simpson said the support was brilliant, as the funds raised exceeded £150,000. She said: “We had tremendous support from the business community and the congregation was fantastic for raising funds.
This included a concert organised by Irene Shearer which was held in the Garrison Theatre in November and involved a host of local musicians. Hamish Balfour at Shetland Transport offered to transport the chairs up to Shetland for free and an extremely generous donation of £20,000 for the new seating came from a member of the congregation, Jessie Ross.
Some of the grants received included £10,000 from Lerwick Community Council for the refurbishment of the organ and £17,000 from the Shetland Council of Churches Trust. The Church of Scotland itself donated £20,000.
The refurbishment was much needed. “The old building was very cold and not at all welcoming,” said Mrs Simpson. Now the church benefits from not only a new heating system, but under-floor heating in the sanctuary and the new meeting room.
There are also spacious new toilets with baby changing facilities which are suitable for disabled access, and a brand new kitchen. Mrs Simpson hopes that the changes will make the church more appealing for members for the public to use.
She said: “The community have invested a lot of money so we want them to feel that it is theirs and to use it.”
The new function room, for example, could be used for a variety of things such as meetings, as there are facilities for telephone and internet access. There is also talk of having the church open at lunch times although this hasn’t been decided on.
The main body of the church has also seen some changes.
The pews on the ground floor have been removed, and chairs have been ordered which will be more flexible and mean the room can be used to suit different occasions and users.
A new font has been made locally by Cecil Tait at Paparwark, as well as a new notice board and cross for the outside of the church. The cross is currently being approved by Historic Scotland as the church is a category B Listed Building.
Mrs Simpson said overall they were “delighted” with the work and result. “The contractors have been really good; they’ve done everything we wanted them to.”
The church was closed for six months while the work was being done, with services taken at the Town Hall. Mrs Simpson said the staff there were extremely helpful. She said: “They were absolutely excellent, so welcoming. They’ve done everything they can for us.”
St Columba’s will be open to the public all week from Monday, between 10am and 4pm, and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The first event to be held in the “new” church is to be a choral concert by the Shetland Choral Society on the 12th December and the church officials are hoping to see a good turnout. The first service will be held on Sunday the 14th December at 11.15am.