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Derelict kirk set to enjoy an afterlife

A derelict city church would be turned into a community centre under plans being proposed by a new Edinburgh charity.

­Lauriston United Presbyterian Church on Lauriston Place has fallen into disrepair since it was bought by the Arab Social League of Edinburgh in 1982.

A lack of cash meant the 19th-century church was never turned into the community centre as the group had planned, and a series of bids to buy the building have failed in recent years.

But plans for the community centre are now back on the cards, with ownership of the church set to be transferred from the social league to a new charity known as the Edinburgh Arab Scotland Trust.

The trust is initially aiming to raise enough money to clean up the church and make it watertight before embarking on a wider fundraising initiative to refurbish the building.

It is envisaged the centre will offer meeting space for community groups, day care for the elderly, training courses and exhibitions.

The city council is in the process of working out a schedule of work needed to restore the church.

Ghassan Hemsi, of the Edinburgh Arab Scotland Trust, said: "We are in talks with the lawyers and the council, and as soon as we get our charity status then we can start our donation activity.

"We know it is a beautiful building but it is in a state just now, so it needs to be cleaned up and we need quotes on how much it will cost to repair.

"It will be for everyone, not just Arabs, and it will have both an educational and community function.

"We have spoken to the current owners and they are quite happy to transfer, but there is a long way to go because it will take a lot of money."

The church has a leaking roof and several broken windows, and also suffered extensive fire damage seven years ago.

Despite housing tonnes of debris and a pigeon infestation, some of the church's interior features, such as its tiered gallery, are still in reasonable condition.

Local councillor Paul Godzik, said: "The concept seems good, I don't have a problem with that, but what we need now is some fairly quick action.

"The building has deteriorated quite badly in recent years and I think we need to address its immediate problems first, and I hope the council are monitoring this one closely."

Council chiefs have received a number of enquiries regarding Lauriston Church in recent years.

These have ranged from people wanting to convert it into housing to a consortium of Edinburgh businessmen who wanted to build an indoor activity centre for teenagers, with a skating facility and an indoor climbing wall.

In 2006, the Evening News reported that a £1.5 million deal to sell the church to property developers was close to completion, but the deal never happened.

A council spokesman said: "We welcome the owner's intention to restore and reuse the building. In the meantime, we will continue to pursue the proposed repairs notice approved by committee."

Source: Andrew Picken and Sue Gyford, Evening News, 17th October, 2008

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