Re-pitching Our Tent

Re-ordering and extending St John's church building

St John's church was built in the 1860s and, apart from some internal decorative additions and the removal of some pews to create limited space for a children's/coffee area at the back, it has hardly been modified since. It has an antiquated heating system with an inadequate boiler, utilising large-bore cast-iron pipes that run under some of the pews, and inadequate toilet facilities that can only be accessed during services by walking up the nave, past the nave altar and through the chancel, which many people find inconvenient or embarrassing. We have no kitchen facilities - members of the congregation have to take the coffee cups home for washing up after services

Over the last five years we have been developing a plan to re-order the interior of the building and add an extension with improved toilet and kitchen facilities, and space for meetings. Our regular organist has had to stop playing on health grounds, so we shall be replacing the organ with a high-tech keyboard and using the space gained in the organ loft for a new Vestry. We shall be retaining the special features of St John's such as the Lorimer rood screen, the stained glass windows, the high altar and reredos, and the traditional character of the chancel.

Our plans for re-ordering and extending are intended to achieve the following outcomes:

  • To meet current sanitary and catering expectations with full disabled access to the building, accessible male and female toilets and a disabled toilet, and proper coffee/tea/snack-making and washing-up facilities outwith the worship area.
  • To install a new, adequate heating system; this requires the removal of the pews (to be replaced with more comfortable chairs) and levelling and insulating the floor.
  • To provide a more flexible worship space while keeping the traditional features of the interior; this will make it possible to vary the church layout for different types of use and provide better facilities for families with children.
  • To provide facilities for midweek meetings, study groups, events and church administration (since the former church hall was sold some years ago as unfit for purpose owing to health and safety concerns we have been using the former rectory for these purposes, but this is now being taken over by the Diocese of Edinburgh for refurbishment as a rental dwelling)
  • To provide a point of contact and resource for the local community.

Near the church building is Knowepark Primary School, which has limited hall-space mainly used for PE. Its head teacher has been enthusiastic about the prospect of having somewhere nearby that could be used for rehearsals, productions, exhibitions and the like. (The school is also interested in the possibility that St John's church grounds might be a suitable local outdoor green space for an eco-project). A questionnaire returned by Knowepark parents indicated interest from the community in using the re-ordered and extended church for activities such as children's birthday parties, lipreading and sign-language courses, table-top sales for local groups like Brownies, mindfulness and meditation sessions, rehearsals, and other such activities.

The design of the proposed extension was suggested by our local architectural technician, Gordon Melrose, after consultation with the Scottish Borders Council Heritage Planning Officer, who advised that a contemporary design would be preferred to a building that tried to copy or blend with the Victorian Gothic architecture of the existing church. You can see a copy of the architect's drawings for the floor plan here, and his design for the elevations here

These are ambitious plans that will cost in total a sum in excess of £300,000. By the end of 2018 we had raised just under £120,000, but we then discovered the presence of loose asbestos in the floor cavity beneath the organ, and its removal significantly ate into our re-ordering fund. Since it was now clear that building costs were escalating faster than our ability to raise funds for the project, the Vestry decided to shelve the plans for an extension for the time being, in order to address the need for a new heating system, and toilets, and work on the interior of the church started at the beginning of September 2019.

Fund-raising and grant applications continue, and we hope to be back in our re-ordered building by early 2020. Meanwhile we are hugely grateful to our friends at Selkirk Baptist Church for extending us their hospitality in 'Connections', their town-centre premises, where we shall be holding our Sunday and midweek services while the work goes on in St John's.