The East Lothian mother makes a last-ditch effort to save the threatened church for the community
The Whitecraig Gala Committee has expressed its dismay at the sale of a Church of Scotland building in their parish.
Kate MacDonald, who serves as treasurer on the committee, said she was “disappointed” that the church was put up for sale.
St John’s Church in Whitecraig’s was put up for sale for £100,000 by the church presbyteries after it became apparent they could no longer afford to maintain it.
READ MORE: Spectacular East Lothian church with huge garden is up for sale for £100,000
But Kate, who held an event for her mother’s funeral at the premises and was baptized at the church, argues the building should remain in the community and be used as a hub to support the needs of villagers.
She says the church has given little consideration to the option of a lease and does not approve of the move to sell it to potential developers or relative outsiders.
The church hall was used by Whitecraigs Gala to host rehearsals and other events important to residents.
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Commenting on the decision to sell, she said: “We have been using it for rehearsals for our gala events for the last few years before Covid. I even buried my mother there in 2018 and helped the church see the potential for renting the space.
“As a member of the church, I was devastated to hear that last December (2021) it was closed because the presbytery could not afford to replace a boiler and service the building.
“I feel like we as a community haven’t had the opportunity to try to preserve the space for local residents.
“A few of us on the Gala Committee have had past experience of buying church buildings in Prestonpans using various grants from organizations such as the Lottery.
“We have secured £150,000 to cover salaries and community programs in this area and see similar potential for St John’s.
“I approached the church about possibly renting the space for a year, covering the expenses and seeing how we would go about it, but we were unsuccessful.
“It’s a huge building that’s so important to a lot of us – it has so much potential.
“We believe that the Church of Scotland should be there to serve members of the community, but that decision boils down to money.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the funds to get a mortgage right now, but local residents are trying to rally around to come up with a plan.
“Some people said if 100 of us could get £1,000 together maybe it could work and I’ve personally pledged the first £1,000 but it doesn’t seem that easy.
“We heard that an investor wants to buy it and build two houses. This would be heartbreaking as it is such an important historical building for the villagers.
“If we had time to try and get financing that would be very welcome but it feels like it’s too late as people are already viewing the property.
“The Church is turning a blind eye to the possibilities – we’ve already built a gala from the ground up over the last four years so we can create something special here.
“It’s so important to the community spirit that this building thrives.
“There’s a lot of emotion at play and local residents are starting to speak up to express their displeasure – I just wish we could keep the building in people’s hands.”
Becka MacDonald supported her mother’s comments on the sale, adding that she was equally upset at the sale of the church and felt Whitecraigs villagers should have been given a chance to save the place.
Both sit on the committee that released a statement last week, June 22, which read: “It has so much history, memories and still amazing potential to thrive in our little village!
“It would be a fantastic community project and we have people in the village who have already been involved in a similar and successful project in nearby towns.
“It could be used for live music events, a community cafe, a variety of community projects such as youth work, men’s groups, childcare facilities or renting out to local groups that are already established but need space to operate, the list is endless!
“It could be the heart of our village.
“The building needs attention, the heating is broken and needs a complete overhaul, but we believe there is great potential for generating revenue to sustain the building.
“We also know that there are many practical people in the village who could help make this happen.
“Our gala rehearsals are usually held here as well, but due to the December closure we had to move to a smaller location.
“The church is such a large space and it is sad that we have not been able to use it for our fundraisers in recent years due to Covid.
“But money is what matters. We need donations, pledges, a team to build and sustain it.
“It won’t be easy, but we can’t let it go without a fight.
“Please reach out with ideas or feedback. We are a small village but have a big heart for our community.
“Let’s stand together and change something!”
A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “Faced with numerous challenges, members of the local church have considered the future of the building – a house of worship – for many years and the decision to sell it was not taken lightly.”