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Historic Inverness church at Craig Dunain could be revived after Highland Council approves vision for community and religious use

By Alasdair Fraser

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The former Craig Dunain Church at Westercraigs, Inverness, which the Living Hope Church want to revive for religious and community use
The former Craig Dunain Church at Westercraigs, Inverness, which the Living Hope Church want to revive for religious and community use

Plans to revive a historic Inverness church building could soon be realised after development plans received Highland Council blessing.

Westercraigs Chapel, which served the adjacent Craig Dunain Hospital, closed in the year 2000 when the mental health facility was replaced by New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital.

The disused church, which is not a listed building but is seen as being of historic interest, is now owned by Robertson Homes.

The firm is proposing transferring ownership to the growing Kinmylies-based Living Hope Church for a nominal fee.

The 85-strong congregation of the baptist church would then assume responsibility for sourcing funds for the renovation project and has already raised a six-figure sum through donations.

Pastor Pete Rennie said the intention, if the transfer is agreed, would be for the building to be reconfigured for flexible use, both as a religious and as a community venue, but he stressed the church do not have legal ownership yet.

Full discussions on the transfer will start now that planning approval has been given.

"We’re delighted that the planning application has finally been approved and are looking forward to continuing discussions with Robertson around us taking ownership of the chapel," pastor Rennie said.

"We’re excited by the opportunity to use the building as a home for our church and for the benefit of the Westercraigs community."

Two years ago, church members learned that the old chapel had been offered to community groups to take on, as a planning condition. The church was the only group to come forward and express and interest in taking on the building.

It plans to develop the building in such a way that it can be flexibly used by other community groups and organisations.

The Living Hope Church had 12 adult and four child members when it was formed eight years ago, but has since grown to 65 adults and 20 youngsters.

Craig Dunain Hospital, designed by prominent 19th-century architect James Matthews, opened as the Inverness District Asylum in May 1864.

It closed in the year 2000, having fallen into decline after the introduction of the UK Government's ‘care in the community’ policy of the 1980s.

The proposals look to refurbish and extend the property as a church.

The building consists of a large portal-framed hall with exposed masonry buttresses and a single storey rear extension.

The proposals look to refurbish and subdivide the hall, while demolishing and rebuilding the

extension to provide additional meeting accommodation.

A design statement within planning documents states that the church, despite being unlisted, “is a building of architectural merit and has its own features and style.”

The intent was to complete the extension with “sympathetic materials” which would “allow the quality of the existing church building to be seen” in its own right.

Approval was given by planners under a number of conditions, including beginning the building project within three years.

An archaeological watching brief would have to be organised during excavation works, along with precautions to clear any land contamination and drainage issues.

Tree protection measures would have to be put in place and a bat survey repeated should work commence more than 18 months after approval.

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