Community wins cash for buy-out of Porty church

The campaign group have been awarded money to buy Bellfield Church in Portobello Pic: Greg Macvean
The campaign group have been awarded money to buy Bellfield Church in Portobello Pic: Greg Macvean
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A PIONEERING community bid to take over a redundant church in Portobello was given a major boost today after winning crucial funding.

Action Porty was awarded £647,500 from the Scottish Land Fund to buy the church and halls of Portobello Old Parish Church in Bellfield Street.

They want to turn the buildings into a multi-purpose community hub, including a base for groups like scouts and cubs, affordable meeting and activity space and offering the former church as a venue for performances and celebrations.

Now the funding has been secured they need a majority to back the plan in a ballot of local residents next month.

If it goes ahead, the purchase is set to become the first urban community buy-out under Scottish Government legislation.

The move has already won support in an earlier survey of the area. Welcoming today’s funding announcement, Action Porty chair Justin Kenrick said: “With the community fully behind this initiative to save Bellfield Old Parish Church and halls, Action Porty is now absolutely delighted to receive this crucial support from the Scottish Land Fund.

“As the population of Portobello grows while community resources vanish, this is a critical step in ensuring we retain and develop fully accessible, affordable community spaces that can enable our community to flourish in these changing times. We hope that all other communities will do the same, and will also get the support they deserve.”

The cash includes up to £570,000 for the purchase of the buildings – the final price will be determined by independent valuers – with the rest going to cover legal and other costs associated with the transfer of ownership.

Moves are already under way to raise money to develop the church and halls. But the buildings are largely ready to use and groups are expected to get in soon after the sale is completed.

The independent valuation is due to be completed early next month. A postal ballot of thousands of residents, commissioned by the Scottish Government, will follow later in March.

Campaigner Mary Campbell said: “Everyone on the electoral roll within the area should get a postal ballot and there is a ten-day period in which it should be returned.

“We are running a big campaign to raise awareness, telling people to expect the envelope and urging them to fill it in immediately and send it back.”

Once the ballot result is known, the final go-ahead for the buy-out is a ministerial decision.

John Watt, chair of the Scottish Land Fund committee, said: “Today’s award to Action Porty is a great example of what can be achieved now that the opportunity for community ownership has been extended to all parts of Scotland. This project has the potential to protect and enhance an important community facility, run for and by local people in Portobello.”

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, said: “This is the first group to go through the revised Community Right to Buy legislation, which now allows urban groups to apply. I’m keen to see more urban groups take advantage of the opportunities.”