Portobello church set to become first community sale

A campaign group have been awarded money to buy Bellfield Church in Portobello. Picture; Greg Macvean
A campaign group have been awarded money to buy Bellfield Church in Portobello. Picture; Greg Macvean
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BALLOT papers have been landing on doormats in Portobello, asking whether residents back the proposed community buy-out of the former Old Parish church and halls in Bellfield Street.

It is the crucial final stage in demonstrating public support for what could become the first urban community buy-out under new Scottish Government legislation.

And the Action Porty group behind the proposal is urging people to return the ballot papers in the envelopes provided as soon as possible. The deadline is noon on April 3.

Around 5750 residents are being asked to vote on the proposal to take over the buildings and turn them into a multi-purpose community hub.

The halls would become a base for groups like scouts and cubs, as well as offering affordable meeting and activity space. The church building would be available as a venue for performances and celebrations.

Last month Action Porty was awarded £647,500 from the Scottish Land Fund (SLF), including up to £570,000 for the purchase of the buildings. The final price will be determined by independent valuers and the rest of the cash will go to cover legal and other costs associated with the transfer of ownership.

Work is in hand to raise the money needed to develop the church and halls. But the buildings are largely ready to use. If the sale goes ahead, the plan is to give the premises a clean and a paint and get people using them again, then work through the schedule of improvements at a later stage.

Campaigners launched their efforts to secure the buildings for community use in 2014 when the Old Parish Church merged with two other nearby congregations to form Portobello and Joppa Parish Church.

They argued the community could not afford to lose two well-used church halls at a time when Portobello was growing, with over 2000 homes being built in the area.

They have already shown strong local support when they had to get signatures from ten per cent of the local population in order to qualify for consideration as a community buy-out.

In fact the campaigners secured 1500 signatures – 25 per cent of the people in the area around the church – in support of the bid.

The procedure for the final ballot does not specify a required turnout or majority before the buy-out can go ahead. A final decision by the Scottish Government is expected around April 26.

Action Porty board member Mary Campbell said: “All the hard work we have done so far, all the volunteer effort and door knocking, it all rests on this ballot.

“We have the funding from the Scottish Land Fund, we just need the community to agree that the building should be brought into community hands.”