Baptists in £1m bid to convert landmark kirk

St George's West on Shandwick Place
St George's West on Shandwick Place
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A LANDMARK city-centre church declared surplus to requirements two years ago is in line to be bought by a nearby congregation which is too big for its building.

The former St George’s West Church in Shandwick Place would become the new home of Charlotte Baptist Chapel, which has been based at the west end of Rose Street for nearly 200 years.

Negotiations are under way between the two churches and it is understood a sale price of more than £1 million is being discussed.

Reverend Paul Rees, senior pastor at Charlotte Chapel, said it had around 600 at Sunday morning worship and there was a large Sunday School.

He said: “We’re just full up on Sunday mornings and need a bigger space.”

The Shandwick Place building would give the church room to expand. If the deal goes ahead, Charlotte Chapel would then look to sell its current premises.

But any switch would not take place until early 2013.

St George’s West – known as the Church of Scotland’s premier “preaching station” in the 1950s, when queues formed outside on a Sunday – merged with St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in George Street in January last year and the united congregation opted for the George Street building as its place of worship.

That building is now to undergo a £900,000 revamp next May and the congregation will use the Shandwick Place premises for six months while the work is carried out.

Rev Ian Gilmour, minister of what is now known as St Andrew’s and St George’s West, said the congregation had not advertised the Shandwick Place building for sale, but received an approach.

He said: “It’s not a done deal. There are still many points that have to be clarified.”

Plans were being developed to turn the St George’s West building into a community hub run by a charitable trust. It is already home to the Olive Tree Cafe and the Hadeel fair trade shop and provides offices for about a dozen charities, as well as being an established Fringe venue.

The trust proposals have been put on hold, but Rev Gilmour said if the deal with Charlotte Chapel fell through, the church would return to the trust.

The work planned for the George Street building, which dates back to the 1780s, includes redecoration of the sanctuary, new toilets, kitchen alterations, organ improvements and more than £100,000 of work to strengthen the floor.

In 1843, the church was the scene of the Disruption, one of the most dramatic moments in the Church of Scotland’s history, when more than a third of the General Assembly marched out to form the Free Church of Scotland in protest at the system of landowners appointing parish ministers.

Rev Gilmour said: “There has not been a lot done to the building for more than 30 years.”