Plans afoot to save Kelso church for community

Plans are proposed by the "Future Kelso" team to restore Trinity North Church in Kelso into a community hall. L-r Colin McGrath, Denise Playfair, Liz Hird and Ray Licence, (Architect).
Plans are proposed by the "Future Kelso" team to restore Trinity North Church in Kelso into a community hall. L-r Colin McGrath, Denise Playfair, Liz Hird and Ray Licence, (Architect).
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WITH its broken panes of glass and vegetation sprouting from its rain gutters and Gothic gargoyles, Kelso’s Trinity North Church has seen better days, writes Mark Entwistle.

However, ambitious plans to rescue the East Bowmont Street structure from further deterioration and convert it into a community, cultural and arts facility could well see it once again a hub of social activity in the town centre

A place of worship for Kelso citizens for almost 100 years, Trinity North Church is a B-listed building which was designed by architect John Starforth and erected as Kelso United Presbyterian Church between 1885-86.

It replaced a church on the same site which had stood since 1788 and is described as being gothic in design, with its main entrance at the south end in a gabled porch with a four-stage, angle-buttressed tower.

With a lancetted belfry and crenellated parapet, the main tower is flanked by two-storey circular stair towers with slated conical roofs.

There are halls attached to the north side of the building and it was most recently used as a workshop business.

Trinity North Church was listed in 1980 and was lived in for more than 20 years by the late New Zealand-born inventor, Dean Warwick and his late wife, Jean.

A controversial figure, Mr Warwick dropped dead of a suspected heart attack on the stage of a Blackpool conference centre during a 2006 get-together of fellow conspiracy theory enthusiasts.

His widow, Jean, a former actress who had appeared in television series such as The Saint died a few years later and since then the empty church has been under the control of trustees.

Two years ago, an external inspection discovered rainwater was starting to seep into the masonry, while last summer, a further probe found vegetation now growing all over the disused building.

However, the FutureKelso initiative may be the church’s saviour.

The group recently formed a sub-committee which resulted in the acquiring of the disused Bowmont Hall for the sum of £1 with the view of turning it into a similar centre.

However, too much work was required on such a small building to make it a viable project. It was at this point, Trinity North became an option. A much bigger property, viewed as having more development potential, the church is now the favoured option. If it goes ahead, ownership of the Bowmont Hall will probably be transferred back to previous owners, Scottish Borders Council.

Sub-committee member and community councillor Colin McGrath says the venture ultimately has to be financially self-supporting.

“What we want is somewhere that can also be used by local groups such as scouts and guides, youth groups and older people, as well as a venue for conferences, possible a job centre, local authority contact centre and perhaps even Citizens Advice staff,” explained Mr McGrath.

“That’s as well as the arts and cultural uses we would want to incorporate. The church is a big space and offers a lot more potential than the Bowmont Hall, which needs far too much done to it.”

Local architect Ray Licence has now produced two studies – one on the building’s current condition and the other on possible future uses. If the project was at the stage of having planning consents in place together with the £1-£2million needed, it is estimated it would take between 18 months and two years to reach completion.

“It is a building that has to be saved,” Mr Licence told TheSouthern this week.

“It is listed, so there’s no chance of demolition being allowed. It offers so many possibilities for public usage and is in such a superb location right in the centre of Kelso.

“I took as my theme a facility that could remain open from 7am until midnight, full of different uses and flexible spaces. It would be a great shame if it ended up as just another old church boarded up or being used as a carpet warehouse or something similar.”

A recent fire, started after vandals broken into the church, now means the race is on to find sufficient funding to at least make the building properly secure.

Mr Licence added: “This church is a great example of its type. The stonework is in good condition, but the roof needs to have work done on it soon. It can’t be allowed to remain with nothing being done to it. This is a wonderful opportunity for Kelso to have a facility that it just doesn’t have at the moment.”

Mr Licence says approaches will be made to grant-awarding bodies which do have money available for such projects.

“But there has to be a business and management plan drawn up first for these groups to look at,” he added.

Sub-committee member, Denise Playfair says as well as improving security at the site, it is important to raise public awareness of the proposals.

“When you come into Kelso from the Edinburgh road, this is the first major building you pass before coming into the town centre and if the building is allowed to deteriorate or gets burned down, it will be a real blight on the middle of Kelso,” she said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity, offering so many possibilities for the town centre and the people of Kelso.”