AN EMPTY church on Royal Deeside, which Queen Victoria refused to visit, is set to be redeveloped as an arts hub in a scheme which has been backed by the Prince of Wales’s regeneration trust.
Plans are being made to transfer the ownership of the A-listed St Margaret’s Episcopal Church, in the Aberdeenshire village of Braemar, to the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust.
The scheme is expected to spearhead a fresh drive to reverse a decline in tourism in the village and includes proposals to establish a Scottish Fiddle College in the redundant church.
St Margaret’s was originally built in three phases between 1899 and 1904 for members of the “English court” at Balmoral and to cater for the hundreds of English visitors flocking to the area following Queen Victoria’s decision to establish a holiday retreat on Royal Deeside.
The monarch, however, snubbed the Episcopalian church, choosing to worship nine miles away at the Church of Scotland’s Crathie Kirk, a short drive from Balmoral.
St Margaret’s was last used as a centre of worship in 1996 and has since fallen into disrepair. It has been on the buildings at risk register since 2003. Both the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust have been working with the community to try and identify a viable future for the building.
Pete Mulvey, one of Braemar’s “Gang of Four” who have been championing the drive to save the building, is confident that an “options appraisal” – outlining plans to transform the church into a community arts hub – is set to trigger the transfer of ownership from the Episcopalian Church to the Redundant Churches Trust.
Mr Mulvey said: “The trust is already committed in principle to taking ownership of the building – subject to proof that there is sustainable use for the building.
“Once the trust takes ownership there will then be two threads to the development. One will be the restoration of the building and the other will be the development of its future use.”
Mr Mulvey, a retired architect, said he and the fellow members of the “Gang of Four” – the Rev Ken MacKenzie, the minister at Crathie; Dave Chandler, a retired accountant; and Brian Wood, the former rector of Hazelhead Academy in Aberdeen – had been enthusiastically supported in trying to identify a viable use for the redundant church by Prince Charles and his regeneration trust. He said it was hoped that the re-opening of the church as a community arts hub would act as a catalyst to attract more tourists.
The trustees of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust are due to make a final decision on the transfer of ownership at a meeting on 17 April.
Victoria Collison-Owen, the trust’s director, is hopeful. She said: “The options appraisal is designed to identify whether there is a viable future for the building and I think the appraisal has done that. It is hugely positive.
“St Margaret’s is a fantastic church of incredibly high quality and an important part of Scotland’s heritage. It is exactly the kind of building the trust would want to take into its ownership.”