A CITY-CENTRE church is about to embark on an ambitious £300,000 renovation project.
St Columba’s Free Church, at the top of the Royal Mile, is visited by 15,000 people every year.
It is home to the annual Free Church of Scotland General Assembly and is open to tourists throughout the summer.
Now the B-listed building – where Sir James Young Simpson, who pioneered the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic, was an elder – is set for its first major revamp for over 100 years.
The church, which is popular with students and has a growing creche and Sunday School, has managed to raise around £200,000 already, but has now launched a public appeal in a bid to raise the shortfall before the end of the year.
The renovation works will see the floor of the main sanctuary being raised and individual seating added to make a flexible auditorium area. The leather-padded pews currently in the sanctuary are to be moved upstairs to the gallery.
Work will start within the next couple of weeks on converting a caretaker’s flat in the basement into an office suite with extra rooms for youth groups, meetings and other activities. And the main project is due to get under way early in the new year.
St Columba’s minister the Rev Derek Lamont said: “Our main building is in an amazing location. Our vision is to have a strong church community that meets in the building to worship God and equips our people to live out and share their faith in Edinburgh.
“We also have the opportunity to reach out to the thousands of visitors who come to the city every year. We would like to see the building become a more useful resource for the wider Christian community in Edinburgh and our denomination nationally.”
He said the changes, which include more IT facilities, would make the building more suitable for conferences and it could also be used as an overspill lecture theatre for the nearby Free Church College.
The foundation for the building was laid in 1843, and took just 18 months to build at the cost of £6500.
The congregation split in 2000 when the majority left with their minister to form the Free Church Continuing. When Mr Lamont arrived in 2001, there was a core group of around 30 people, which has now grown to around 200 on Sunday mornings.