Congregations of historic Scots kirks ‘facing unfair costs’

Artist Iain Campbell is painting assembly attendees as part of his vision of the General Assemblys theme, People of the Way. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Artist Iain Campbell is painting assembly attendees as part of his vision of the General Assemblys theme, People of the Way. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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Paisley Abbey, the 12th century “Cradle of the Royal Stewarts” may be expanded with a visitor centre to transform it into a major international tourist attraction as the Kirk considers ways of generating income to maintain properties, especially listed buildings such as the abbey.

Delegates attending the 2016 General Assembly in Edinburgh were yesterday told it was unfair some congregations had the financial burden of maintaining historic properties, such as the A-listed abbey – which costs £800 a day to run – and is also used as high-profile civic meeting place and is part of Scotland’s historic heritage.

The Kirk and Renfrewshire Council are to meet to discuss an outline business plan with a funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The move comes as Paisley prepares to compete for the title of UK City of Culture 2021.

Iain Douglas, chairman of the general trustees’ committee, said: “Our church buildings present our most public visibility in communities. Some of our churches are national monuments and civic centres – like Paisley Abbey and others.

“In towns and cities church buildings and spires often punctuate the townscape and add to the quality of the environment.”

Listed church buildings may qualify for grant aid through the Heritage Lottery Fund or Historic Environment Scotland.

The abbey had been running at a loss for a few years it is now breaking even with its latest accounts showing a surplus over the last two years – £77,520 in 2014 and £50,280 last year.

However, the Rev Alan Birss,minister at the abbey for the past 28 years, said: “This surplus is not at a high enough rate to maintain or expand the abbey. It is increasingly not sustainable considering the costs of maintaining the fabric of such a building.

“A burst pipe a few years ago cost us around £20,000 to repair because of the nature of the building.”

Mr Birss, who is hosting a medieval fayre at the abbey today as part of a year-long celebration of the birth of the first Stewart king, Robert II, in the abbey in 1316, added: “The abbey’s proposals for the west side of the cloister were drawn up not only to provide increased revenue but also vastly to improve access and facilities for visitors and the local community.

“It is all part of the vision to see the abbey develop and grow, improving and expanding its ministry to visitors and to the local community.

“We remain committed to being ‘Paisley’s Abbey’ and seek to work together with the church regionally and nationally, as well as the local authority and national government agencies, to maintain and develop that role.”

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