Exciting plans for a £500,000 project to carry out repairs and build a new visitor attraction at the United Church of Bute have been unveiled.
Last year a detailed survey of the building revealed that harling on three of the four walls is failing and needs renewed, with the cost outwith the means of the congregation.
The church’s property convenor Stewart Shaw explained that the church needs £250,000 for these repairs, with a further £250,000 needed to transform the building.
He said: “There is a threat to it in terms of if we don’t get this money we will not be able to sort it and the harling will fail. In some areas of the church 80 per cent of the wall is being held up by its own concrete structure. If that breaks with a heavy frost say then big lots of it will come down.”
Last year, Bute residents expressed their anguish at the demolition of the West Church and this year they are likely to witness the destruction of St Brendan’s Tower.
Rather than watch the United Church of Bute eventually go the same way, its congregation has applied for Heritage Lottery Funding for its repair. If they are successful this would not only see the church building repaired, but an Early Christian Centre also established to boost tourism.
Stewart added: “It could have a tremendous spin-off for the local community. I liked the idea even before we had this problem with the building. It could really do something for the tourist industry on the island.
“We hope to tap into the planned pilgrimage trail from Bute to Iona. And we hope that ties in to the tourist attractions we have on Bute like Mount Stuart.”
Visitors to the new centre could walk from the church along the West Island Way to Bute’s early Christian sites. With an easy link also from Rhubodach via Colintraive to Fearnoch Chapel.
Key to the renovation project is a £300,000 Heritage Lottery fund (HLF) application, with the rest to be gathered from Historic Environment Scotland and raised by the church itself. The next stage application to the HLF will be submitted in June.
“We think we will need to come up with about five to ten per cent, £25,000-50,000,” added Stewart.
“At the moment we are doing as much as we can. We raise about £4,000 a year just now, so we may need to do more. If the HLF application is successful we would then put together a project team to move forward.”
Any changes to the interior would be “sympathetic” so it can remain a place of worship and for baptisms, weddings and funerals.