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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Repairing Highland Churches

Looking Back

Friday October 9 2020

Looking Back: Repairing Highland Churches

Summer 1956 saw the birth of a scheme under which volunteers went north to help repair run-down churches in the Highlands and Islands. One of the volunteers sent this report, published in October that year.


A young reader tells of her experiences as a member of the first Highland Churches’ Help Scheme, launched by a “Life and Work” appeal.

IT was the Monday of the Glasgow “Fair” holiday, and I stood on the deck of the MacBrayne steamer “Loch Earn” as it nosed through the Sound of Mull, and then round Ardmore Point and into the open Atlantic as it headed south-west for the green island of Coll, and my destination – Tiree.

I was on my way to stay for a few days with the team of craftsmen who were spending the month of July repairing and renovating the church and manse at Kirkipoll and the croft-church of Ballevullin. This was the pioneer project of the Highland Churches’ Help Scheme, and one that was being watched with keen interest by the Home Board of the Church. I could not fail to be impressed by the importance of the experiment, and excited at the prospect of sharing in its achievements.

Most passengers were out on deck to enjoy the beautiful morning, and to catch a view of the fairy-like Treshnish Islands, the Dutchman’s Cap, Staffa, and farther south, Iona. Before the steamer reached Scarinish Pier I had already made the acquaintance of a coach painter and his family from East Kilbride who had been among early volunteers for the Scheme.

By noon I was on my way with the other new arrivals across the flat, sandy island to the team’s headquarters in the large, white, three-storey manse at Kirkipoll. Soon I was being given a corner of the lounge to roll out my sleeping-bag and unpack. My city clothes were laid aside, as I changed into more suitable attire.

At lunch I had my first opportunity to meet the rest of the party. Apart from the leader of the team, the Rev. E. Foster Hall of Musselburgh and his family, there were thirty people representing a wide variety of trades and professions – joiners, painters, plasterers, slaters, electricians, plumbers, builders and other tradesmen, as well as housewives, office workers and students.

The women’s jobs, I discovered, were preparing meals, scraping walls, sweeping, scrubbing, distempering and painting; while the children played their part by feeding the hens and running errands.

Badly weathered

In the afternoon the newcomers were taken to see Kirkipoll Church, where the work was well under way. Mr. Hall explained how the 120-year-old church had been badly weathered on one side, and sadly in need of repair. But now the slating of the roof had been restored, and workmen were painting the stonework. Inside, the building had been wired for electricity, and after the window frames had been repaired the walls were to be painted blue.

At the manse, too, Mr. Hall showed how and electric water-pump was being installed to replace one that was hand-operated. Outside, in the marquee where meals were taken, a young joiner was making a wooden cabinet for the manse kitchen.

But there was no more talk of work that day, for the team had the afternoons and evenings to themselves – with plenty of opportunities for bathing, walking, cycling or just sitting on the beach. I joined a party who were going for a bathe in nearby Gott Bay, and found the white sands and blue-green water of the Atlantic a holidaymaker’s paradise.

In the evening I attended prayers, which were held twice daily. These were completely informal meetings held in the dining-room with the minister in his shirt sleeves, the men in overalls, and the girls in jeans. But they were none-the-less effective. One of my most lasting impressions of Tiree will be of a circle of people, heads bowed, asking for God’s blessing on their labours.

Work for me began in earnest the next day, when I found myself with a paint brush, a pot of paint and a large expense of the kitchen wall to cover. By lunchtime I was surprised at the appetite I had acquired – a common experience among the workers, I discovered!

Later that day the team visited Ballevulin on the other side of the island, where the tiny croft-church was in need of repair. This was one of the typical buildings of the island – with walls two feet thick, and a low, pitched roof. It was not logn before the tradesmen had it watertight again, and ready once more for its island worshippers.

And so the work went on steadily day by day – well ahead of schedule – and all too quickly my visit came to an end. A short one, perhaps. But it was enough to convince me of one thing. The first Highland Churches’ Help Scheme has brought new life to the churches of a Hebridean island. But it has also brought new hope to countless others. For from what I saw on Tiree it looks as if a vast new field of service is opening up for the hitherto untapped resources of the Church.


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