Tenants to receive keys for flats in old Baptist kirk

The first tenants to move into flats built in the old Lerwick Baptist Church will be handed the keys to their new homes tomorrow.

Sinclair Thomson House, named after the West Side man who started the Baptist movement in Shetland over 200 years ago, has been developed by construction firm DITT.

It contains six one-bedroom flats, which have been developed for Hjaltland Housing Association.

The £900,000 project took 18 months to complete, and has allowed some much-needed housing development in the centre of the town.

But building six apartments in what was once a place of worship has not been a simple process.

Hjaltland’s property manager, Paul Leask, said many “challenges” had been faced during the building process.

He said modern concrete floors and block-work walls were needed to provide fire-proofing and improve sound-proofing in a building which had, until last year, served worshippers since the 1890s.

“We’ve done that to make them nice flats to live in, so noise isn’t a problem,” he said.

“We’ve had to put in a huge raft foundation inside the building, and we have a steel frame fixed to that raft so it is effectively a building within a building. DITT have left a very high standard of finish there.”

Another challenge lay in retaining the old stained-glass windows, which help add character to the new flats.

The old timber and metal frames were rotten, said Mr Leask, and specialist help was needed to incorporate the old glass within modern, double-glazed units.

But he said the extra effort has given each of the six flats a distinctive character of their own.

Architect for the project was Scalloway company Redman and Sutherland. The firm’s Jim Sutherland admitted he had a number of obstacles to face.

“It has been really interesting. But in the existing building you have the challenge of placing really quite a lot of accommodation within an existing shell.

“With a new building you can put your windows and doors where they are needed, but with the existing shell you’re stuck with them, especially if it’s a bonnie old kirk like this, so we had to work around that.

“That’s the challenge and it leads to some interesting things happening. When you come along and see it all taking shape and look out a window and see things you weren’t expecting to see, it’s all worthwhile.”

The building project was made possible by a deal between church leaders and Hjaltland in March 2004. The agreement allowed the church to acquire a plot of land at Quoys for its new development while Hjaltland took over the old building.

Mr Leask said the agreement represented a “win-win” situation for the housing body and the church.

“The project has been a win-win situation for us and the Baptist kirk, because they have got a new purpose-built building at Quoys, and it has enhanced the area at Quoys, with the church doing a whole range of things that have helped that area. It has brought another dimension to Quoys.

“We’ve also been able to breathe some life into the old building, and we hope it will be of good use for another 100 years.

“The challenge we have in Lerwick is that, in around the centre of Lerwick, there’s no real space. Getting people into the centre of Lerwick can be difficult. It’s only six flats, but it is good to get six flats in the centre of Lerwick.”

While the church’s interior has been transformed, its exterior has remained almost the same as before. No new parking spaces will be provided as a result of the work, but Hjaltland say the anticipated demand for parking is minimal.

What is far from minimal is the continuing high demand for houses in the isles.

The six residents moving into Sinclair Thomson House have been picked out of an initial tally of 75 applicants who put their names forward.

Hjaltland currently has 700 people on its waiting list for housing.

Deacon and project manager for the new church at Quoys, Bill Peterson, said the church had worked well with Hjaltland Housing.  

“We have had a good relationship with Hjaltland Housing. We’ve benefited from being at our new place in Quoys and we enjoy worshipping there, but we have many happy memories of our time here.”


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