ONE of Scotland’s best-loved church buildings is being resurrected as a restaurant and conference venue by holiday park and mansion house operator Fusion Group.
Scottish Churches House in Dunblane was opened in 1960 as an ecumenical centre to bring together ministers and church members from different traditions to share ideas.
The closure of the loss-making centre in 2011 was greeted with disappointment by generations of Christians who had stayed at the site.
Previous financial difficulties in 2005 had sparked a fundraising campaign – led by former Church of Scotland moderator Alison Elliot – that brought in nearly £130,000 to refurbish the facility.
Now Grangemouth-based Fusion Group – which already runs Carphin House in Fife and Logierait Lodges near Pitlochry – has signed a ten-year lease to operate the complex.
Managing director Alex McKie told Scotland on Sunday that he initially plans to invest about £200,000 refurbishing the site, which he hopes will eventually turn over about £450,000 a year. Cash for the refit will come from Fusion Group’s reserves.
McKie will initially create a mixture of 20 full and part-time jobs at the development, which will include a 60-seater restaurant, 14 bedrooms, self-catering accommodation and three events spaces.
“We plan to reopen the chapel too so that we can hold weddings, baptisms and funerals,” said McKie.
“We want to work with local suppliers – like butchers and greengrocers – and we hope Old Churches House will breath new life into Cathedral Square in Dunblane.”
Fusion Group – which is also the Scottish agent for Aim-quoted temporary hotel operator Snoozebox – already has pre-bookings from three tour operators, which will bring about 3,500 guests into Dunblane in the year ahead.
McKie plans to open the accommodation in April, with the restaurant following in May, subject to licences being granted by the local council.He sees his new business competing with the likes of celebrity chef Nick Nairn’s Kailyard restaurant at the Dunblane Hydro Hotel.
Brother Stephen Smyth, general secretary of umbrella body Action of Churches Together in Scotland (Acts), which owns the site, said he had been looking for a group to take on the centre since it closed in 2011.
“Closing a place is always difficult, but we’re pleased that the centre is now going to be properly maintained and used,” Smyth said. “It will bring some life back to the square, which has been quiet in recent years.
“I think the churches that are members of Acts are quite satisfied. I’ve got no doubt that the new facilities will still appeal to a lot of church groups, which will want to start using it again.
“It was a lengthy discussion but Fusion has been sensitive to the house so that’s helped us to negotiate the deal.”