RESIDENTS in Portobello are being asked to back what could become the first urban community buy-out under new Scottish Government legislation.
The Save Bellfield campaign aims to take over the church and halls of the former Portobello Old Parish Church in Bellfield Street.
Supporters include artists and performers who live in the area, among them Downton Abbey actor Cal MacAninch.
The Friends of Bellfield hope to provide a continuing home for a wide range of groups which have been based in the building as well as developing it for other community activities. A feasibility study has just been commissioned.
And campaigners have now begun the process of collecting the signatures required to prove they have community backing for the buy-out.
The Community Empowerment Act passed last year extends the right to buy land and buildings to urban communities.
Justin Kenrick, spokesman for Friends of Bellfield, said: “We need to get ten per cent of the people on the electoral roll to sign a document of support for the idea of us buying it out – that’s if it is before the church goes on the market; if the church is already on the market, it’s 15 per cent. We would hope to get as many as possible anyway.”
The group has already secured £16,000 from the Scottish Land Fund to help with the feasibility study.
The campaigners had asked the Church of Scotland to delay putting the building on the market to allow them more time to raise the funds for the buy-out, but the church’s General Trustees turned down the request.
Portobello Old Parish Church and St James Church in Rosefield Place have both been merged with St Philip’s, Joppa, to become Portobello and Joppa Parish Church in the St Philip’s building.
Mr Kendrick said: “Portobello is growing in population all the time, but the community resources are diminishing all the time. We want first of all to make sure the community groups that currently meet there can carry on.”
Geoff Lynn, of Portobello Comunity Council, backed the buy-out. “Groups are finding it hard to get space – that’s obviously a concern. Church halls are seen as key in that regard. I hope they will get the ten per cent or more community support to make this the first urban community to take advantage of the community right to buy in Scotland.”
A Church of Scotland spokesman welcomed the approach From Friends of Bellfield, which was one of a number expressions of interest in the building. “As charity trustees, we are under an obligation to act in the best interests of the charity when making any decisions about the future of our buildings. We expect the property will be ready to go on the market later this year, and believe this will give all interested parties ample time to assemble their bids in advance of any closing date.”