Historic church is saved by Kirk

A derelict B-listed Gothic church in Kelso is steadily, but surely, being brought back to life by a man from Bulgaria, working on a shoestring budget.

Kirk Kirchev continues the rolling renovation at North Trinity Church in Kelso.

North Trinity Church, in East Bowmont Street had been lying, and rotting, for more than 10 years when Kirk Kirchev happened on the building online.

Kirk – a co-founder of specialist tent firm tentsile.com – who lives in South Lanarkshire, moved to the UK from Bulgaria in 1995, and spent 20 years in London before moving to Scotland.

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And now, he’s put all his and his mother’s savings into saving the Borders landmark, and is hoping the building, with its lanceted belfry and gabled transepts, can be used for special events such as weddings.

Casual worker Robbie Swinton with building owner Kirk Kirchev.

It hasn’t been an easy proposition so far.

Kirk told us: “I purchased the building at the end of November with £80,000 of my own savings.

“When I got the keys it was all boarded up, derelict, and very dirty and scary.

“First, we have had to make sure it was safe.

Kirk Kirchev outside the North Trinity Church in Kelso.

“We took out all the wood and fixtures that were rotten – anything that could fall on you.”

Another problem was the sheer scale of pigeon droppings left to build up over the years.

Kirk said: “We cleared 10 tons of pigeon doings from the bell tower. In one of the tower’s two rooms, it was 3ft thick on the floor.”

The work has been done by Kirk himself, a few casual workers and a roofer, but it is beginning to look like it’s starting to pay off.

Kirk said: “It’s been two months now and it’s starting to look like something.

“I’m using £35,000 of my mother’s savings which is all the money I have, so I’m doing everything on a shoestring budget. I haven’t got any funding or other source of income right now.

“The plan is in a few more months to get the building to a minimum usable state – where it’s safe and dry and insured with functioning toilets – and then, if we host some events or weddings then we can use that stream of income to keep on renovating and restoring bit by bit. You could call it a rolling renovation.

“We are already taking bookings for events for this summer , and we can offer a promotional half price for anyone that books before May.

“At the moment we are making tables out of the broken pews that had been left lying around, and we are fixing the roof, which had developed a few leaks.”

The church, designed by architect John Starforth and erected as Kelso United Presbyterian Church between 1885-86, was a place of worship for Kelso citizens for almost 100 years.

It has also been home to controversial New Zealand-born inventor and conspiracy theorist Dean Warwick and his actress wife Jean for more than 20 years, but it fell into disrepair following his death in 2006.

There have been previous attempts to save the church, most notably by the Future Kelso group in 2011, who wanted to turn it into a community hub.

The news that it will be finally resurrected will be warmly welcomed by locals.