New £3.5m renovation of the historic church building opens at St John’s church

The cornerstone centre of St Johns church on Edinburgh's princes street today with rector Rev Markus Dunzkofer
The cornerstone centre of St Johns church on Edinburgh's princes street today with rector Rev Markus Dunzkofer
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It sits square in the heart of the city centre on the corner of the busy Princes Street and Lothian Road junction.

And now St John’s Church is not only celebrating 200 years, but the opening of an extensive £3.5 million renovation of the historic church building.

The newly opened Cornerstone Centre, which was officially blessed yesterday, is a community hub 15 years in the making.

Thanks to generous community donations and grants, the vision has now been realised.

The rector, the Rev Markus Dünzkofer, is enthusiastic not only about the seamless transition between the old and the new but the potential the centre has to act as physical extension and an extension to the local community.

He said: “The Cornerstone Centre will be a vibrant, open, welcoming space for individuals, community groups and local organisations.

“St John’s is used it for all types of things and before the new building opened there was only one toilet – it was not acceptable for the 21st century.

“We want to create a community hub not just to provide affordable meeting space for the city centre but for a church it is easy to become inwardly focussed and St John’s has always had a story about moving beyond ourself. So I think the new hall will keep us projecting outside.”

The entrance to the centre, designed by local LDN architects, opens from a set-back entrance on the Lothian Road side and now connects all parts of the church from meeting rooms, to a bright new hall with stunning views of the castle and neighbouring church, St Cuthbert’s.

Markus explained: “All the areas of the church are now accessible and connected – it has really helped to work with local companies who know the landscape who to liaise with.”

Home to burial sites of Sir Walter Scott’s mother and artist Henry Raeburn, the newly imagined space will also include a cafe in the vaults that run along the south side of the church.

“We’ve got exciting ideas to use the cafe as a bistro for coffee and a bite to eat during the day and take advantage of the space at night – romantic lighting and candles for a lovely evening spot,” Markus said. “The arched rooms are also home to the One World Shop, our book shop and a social enterprise.

“St John’s actually created these vaults to try and deter grave robbers – there are over 200 graves below the floor.

“We are working on compiling a list of people who were buried here and will memorialise them.”

Due in part to its location, St John’s links to the community are strong and plunging temperatures during the Beast from the East weather phenomenon they set up a 24 hour homeless shelter for those most in need.

Markus said holding events such as the Together Churches homelessness breakfast with the local business community, churches and providers in the new hall demonstrates exactly what they hoped for the new Cornerstone Centre.

fiona.pringle@jpress.co.uk