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Village church saved by its community

The historic Kilmaronock Church faced closure in 2017. The local community rallied to prevent this from happening. Now, their successful bid to buy the church ensures its preservation and transformation into a community venue. This is how they did it.

Kilmaronock Church. Courtesy of the Kilmaronock Old Kirk Trust.

Nestled along the historic route connecting Balloch and Stirling, an 1800s church sits on the Lowlands-Highlands fault line. 

The surrounding land, older than the church itself, contains ancient gravestones dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and some more recent graves of notable figures like TV presenter Tom Weir and Brigadier Alistair “Jock” Pearson, one of the most highly regarded soldiers in the history of the British army. 

This is Kilmaronock Church, built in 1813. An unpretentious but elegantly designed building, its bell tower looking out over Conic Hill and, further in the distance, Ben Lomond.  The Church served the parish until 2017, when it was closed and began falling into disrepair. 

Soon after, the local community held a meeting to discuss the future of the building and its potential as a community space. A committee was formed, which then became registered as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO), with the aim of buying the church. 

“It was a well-loved church, it’s a lovely location, and lovely acoustics,” Mary Sweetland, who handles the funding and finances for the organisation told me. 

“The guy who started it all off had seen the state of the Millburn Church in Renton, which was an A-listed building, the state of disrepair it had gotten into because nobody had done anything with it and didn’t want Kilmaronock to go the same way.”

Many local people have deep familial connections to the Church, with successive generations of ancestors being buried in the graveyard, and memories of weddings and baptisms taking place there. 

The Kilmaronock Old Kirk Trust now has over 100 members. The group first applied to the Scottish Land Fund to get the money to buy the church, and since had many different funding sources, including over 10% of the contributions coming directly from the surrounding community.

“We’ve had about 19 different organisations supporting us,” Mary added. 

“Our biggest support has been the Fraser Foundation who committed £100,000, because Sir High Fraser is buried in the graveyard.” 

That pot of money was given with the condition the work would definitely go ahead. 

“We didn’t need to use it for the first phase of funding to do the external work, but the fact we had that commitment meant we could leverage funding from other organisations, so we got funding from Historic Environment Scotland to make it wind and watertight,” Mary explained.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic postponed a lot of the work planned and inflated the cost of renovations when work finally began, but they have still made good progress. 

As for the future, along with earning a bit of money as a wedding and concert venue, the Trust hopes to make the church a sustainable venue for the community, showcasing the history of the building and the local area, with a heritage gallery in the upstairs area.

“Once we have toilets in and a kitchen, it can be for community use. At the moment I have to get portable toilets dropped off before we have an event! 

“Our thinking is we’ll have a visitors centre which is open at weekends, where folk can get a cup of coffee and explore.”

This church, once neglected and facing inevitable ruin, has had a new lease on life, and the cold wind no longer whistles through cracks in the walls. 

Hopefully, with the help of its devoted volunteers, this charming and iconic building will serve as a community centre and place for tourists to rediscover their heritage for years to come. 

To find out more about the history of Kilmaronock Church watch Clydesider’s Take a Minute heritage video here – and the Trust’s website

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Opening night of Ness Hall 21st July 1964. Image Courtesy of Comunn Eachraidh Nis

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