Stage is set for arts and entertainment centre as trust secures lease on old kirk

St Andrew's Art Centre organ, Galashiels
St Andrew's Art Centre organ, Galashiels

PLANS to convert a former church into the region’s largest arts and entertainment centre have been secured.

On Tuesday, the executive of Scottish Borders Council, which owns St Andrew’s Church in Galashiels, convened in private and agreed to extend a temporary lease for the premises, which was granted for a peppercorn rate in November 2010, to a local consortium and was due to expire at the end of this month.

Councillors heard that the Duncan MacKinnon Music & Arts Trust had already carried out “a substantial amount” of preparation work and were ready, in the short term, to hire out the premises as rehearsal space to community groups.

A report by Andrew Drummond-Hunt, SBC’s head of estates, which councillors agreed should be made public, stated: “Should the venture prove successful, the trust would wish to take on successive lease extensions and, to facilitate this, a straightforward mechanism to implement lease extension is proposed on the proviso it should not go beyond 2038.

“Should the venture not prove to be viable and the trust terminates the lease, it is proposed the council makes reasonable efforts to try to find a viable new tenant and, if not successful, the council would put the premises on the market to the highest bidder.”

Recommending the lease extensions to the trust, Mr Drummond-Hunt said they accorded with disposal of land regulations as they were granted “for the purpose of the promotion and wider improvement of the health and social wellbeing of Galashiels and the wider Borders community”.

The decision, understood to be unanimous, was welcomed by trust director and founder David Angus, who runs a public event sound equipment business in the town.

“This is wonderful news not just for our trust, but for the people of the central Borders who deserve an arts and entertainment venue capable of attracting acts of the highest quality.

“This gives as the long-term security to implement our three-year plan and we can now go forward with real confidence.”

The trust, which has charitable status, is named after the late Duncan MacKinnon, the Drygrange-based impressario who brought hundreds of top pop acts, including The Who and Chuck Berry, to the Borders dance hall circuit in the 1960s.

“As those of a certain age can remember, the Borders was a mecca for the finest artists of the day and by naming the trust in Duncan’s honour, we want to emulate his spirit and ambition,” said Mr Angus.

It was a condition of the listed building consent granted last year for internal alterations that efforts should be made to find a new home for the imposing pipe organ which was installed when the church hall was built a century ago.

But Mr Drummond-Hunt told us there had been no expressions of interest from preservation societies for the instrument and Mr Angus confirmed that the organ, which was beyond repair and had not been played since 1976, would now be removed to make way for the venue’s main stage.

Mr Angus said he and the five other directors of the charitable trust would meet this weekend to discuss the way forward, but he confirmed a dedicated website would be created within the next month and bookings offered for rehearsal space.

“The great thing about security of tenure is not only does it absolve the council of any expense in maintaining the building, it allows us to meticulously and carefully plan its development and I commend the councillors for their commitment.”

Once the region’s only publicly-owned arts centre, St Andrew’s was closed as a cost-cutting measure by SBC in 2009. Attempts to market the property were unsuccessful until the trust expressed an interest in 2010.