A public meeting will be held in Lochbroom this weekend to discuss the future of the historic Clachan Church.
The church was built in 1817 but its location at the head of Lochbroom has been a place of worship for 800 years. A specialist survey of the building – which excluded the roof – was funded by the local community and found the church was suffering from structural damage. The surveyor was unwilling to estimate the cost of repairs as this would be dependent on the future use of the building. A grant application for funding failed and now the Church of Scotland have indicated that it intends to put Clachan – which has a congregation of between six and 12 people – up for sale in January 2017.
A public meeting will take place at the church on Saturday (28th November) from 2pm, organised by the congregational board of the Lochbroom and Ullapool Church of Scotland. The notice advertising the meeting states it will offer a chance to answer questions and “consider options the public may have”.
Sarah Mackenzie, a regular attender at Clachan Church said: “After at least 800 years it would be a sad day for this church to close its doors. Burials will still take place in the burial ground surrounding Clachan Church so to have the building put up for sale, with who knows what outcome, is very disturbing.
“It’s a very important site for the history and culture of this community. Robert the Bruce stayed nearby in 1309 and may well have visited. Members of the church were among the first to sail on ‘The Hector’ when they emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1773. Sir John Fowler, who designed the Forth Railway Bridge, owned the neighbouring estate from 1865 and he and his descendants attended the church. They all have links to the site. Surely it cannot be left to decay or be sold into some inappropriate hands?”
The current church was built on a site where a church building has stood since the 13th century, the original having served an area from Lochinver to Gairloch. Despite its current reduced congregation, the last meeting attracted around 70 people.
Elder and treasurer of the church Pam Mackenzie said: “The Church of Scotland has a real problem – a tiny congregation and an old building in need of expensive repairs. Unless some solution is found in the next 12 months we would not have any choice but to sell the building.”
John Gleeson, the historic building consultant who carried out the survey, said that if the building had several uses it might be able to generate revenue to contribute to its own upkeep but added that would probably mean paying for additional facilities such as a toilet, good heating system and disabled access.
Although last year’s grant application was unsuccessful, the scheme is releasing further funds in 2016. Mr Gleeson was involved in two successful bids in 2015 and thinks Clachan could reapply, commenting: “As a landmark, and part of the community’s historic story there’s no denying that it’s an important building. Churches hold a very emotional place but the economics are problematic. Clachan church is obviously at the heart of its community but unfortunately that isn’t actually going to save it. It’s money that you need.”