FOR one city-centre church, an out-of-the-blue visit by a US entrepreneur turned into a real blessing – after she donated £40,000.
The surprise cash injection will pay for the installation of a platform stairlift at Old St Paul’s Scottish Episcopal Church in Jeffrey Street, which will enable wheelchair users to come and go as they please.
It comes after Nien-Ling Wacker, chief executive officer of Laserfiche, popped into the church on a visit to Edinburgh and was horrified to see disabled worshippers struggling with the 19th century building’s steep steps to get to mass.
After returning to California, where her company is based, Nien-Ling began thinking about her former business mentor, Robert Gilchrist – a Scot she credits for helping to make the business a success.
Nien-Ling, who along with colleagues attended Old St Paul’s yesterday to present the £40,000 cheque from Laserfiche, said: “We were in the UK because we were searching for a new office in London.
“I was always hearing about Edinburgh so while we were here, I popped up for a visit and I came to this church.
“People had to be carried in on their wheelchairs and they were struggling.
“To me, this is giving something back to Bob after what he gave to us and it’s appropriate because he himself was disabled.”
Bob began working with Laserfiche – a firm specialising in a paperless office software – in its formative years.
The firm’s products are now used by four million users across five continents.
But in 1985, Bob received a heart transplant and his health was to deteriorate further – he suffered two strokes in two years and required partial amputations on both legs. He died in 1996 aged 57.
“When Bob was alive, we still weren’t in a position to fully understand or appreciate how much his guidance and friendship meant to us and our company,” said Nien-Ling.
“We’re hoping now, that in its own small way, this gift lets people reflect a bit on Bob and the importance of helping others.”
Plans to improve wheelchair access at the church were part of a £135,000 restoration and renewal project.
Rector Canon Ian Paton said he was delighted with the donation.
“Our aim as a church is to be open to everyone and the fact that someone is in a wheelchair should not exclude them.
“The machine we have now is very old and needs a trained operator, so it can only be used for big services, other visits had to be arranged in advance.”
The installation of the new stairlift will mean wheelchair users will have easy access to the many social activities at the church and it will be accessible to disabled tourists.
Canon Paton said: “Now people will be able to come to the church when they wish.”
Although the present building dates from the 19th century, Old St Paul’s history goes back 300 years to the beginning of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
There have been people worshipping on the site since 1689, when a breakaway group from the old Cathedral of St Giles led by Bishop Alexander Rose moved into an old wool store in Carrubber’s Close.