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Transformation of derelict Rosebank Church in Nairn into nine flats to begin with Highland Concept and SJ Highland carrying out work

By Donald Wilson

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Samir Walsh, director of SJ Highland Construction, and Johnny Walsh, of Highland Concept Property Developers. Pictures: Callum Mackay..
Samir Walsh, director of SJ Highland Construction, and Johnny Walsh, of Highland Concept Property Developers. Pictures: Callum Mackay..

Work is to start at the end of this month on the transformation of a historic listed building in Nairn into nine flats.

The former Rosebank Church has lain derelict beside the main trunk road since it closed over 40 years ago is to be redeveloped by local companies Highland Concept and SJ Highland Construction whose owners Samia and Johnny Walsh moved to Nairn last year.

There have been many false dawns over the future of C-Listed which was re-roofed several years ago with grant aid because of the danger to the structural integrity of the property.

Plan to convert Nairn church clears latest hurdle

The United Presbyterian Church closed in 1979 when its congregation joined Nairn High Church, later renamed St Ninians.

Highland Regional Council bought the property for £12,000 but never developed when it was emerged the roof needed replaced. It was then sold for £1 to Nairn exile the late Peter MacRae, an architect who had plans for a Clan MacRae centre.

That fell through and ownership passed on to his son Sheridan MacRae who lives in Canada.

Rosebank Church in Nairn.
Rosebank Church in Nairn.

It had become such an eyesore that there had been calls for it to be demolished.

But the Romanesque style building's architectural merit and it's listed building status by Historic Scotland saved the property from a wrecking ball.

The plans by Mr MacRae to convert the building into flats were approved in 2010.

He has been engaged by Mr and Mrs Walsh to bring the project to completion.

"We are delighted to have Sheridan on board. It's been important for him and we are going to incorporate a plaque in the building in memory of his father," said Shamia.

The design includes nine flats with one on the ground floor which will have wheelchair access at the rear of the building.

Samir Walsh, director of SJ Highland Construction, and Johnny Walsh, of Highland Concept Property Developers. Pictures: Callum Mackay..
Samir Walsh, director of SJ Highland Construction, and Johnny Walsh, of Highland Concept Property Developers. Pictures: Callum Mackay..

Shamia (40) who is from Essex said she and her husband Johnny (48) from Wexford in the Rebublic of Ireland, moved to Invergordon four years ago where they have been involved in a number of developments.

"We have some other projects ongoing but when we came to Nairn I always looked at the church and thought 'what a lovely building'.

"When the 'for sale' sign went up I though 'this is do-able'. It would be very sad to see such a beautiful building fall down and I had always wanted to restore a church.

"Johnny and I went to a restaurant which was a converted church and we saw the possibilities. Johnny made me a promise he would by me a church sometime and he has kept that promise!"

Johnny said: "The plans are already approved and building warrants are in place. Sheridan has done a lot of the work and he is staying on as our architect. He knows the building inside out and we have promised Sheridan to put a plaque up in memory of his father who sadly passed away some years ago. But he would obviously be delighted his son has brought the project to fruition."

The main structure of the building will be maintained and restored including the frontage.

"Stained glass windows from the rear of the building have been preserved and they will incorporated as light boxes in the stairwell so that should be quite stunning. We are also going to re-instate railings which previously were at the front of the building but of course the view will be unrestricted."

The couple said they plan to rent the five two-bedroom and four single-bedroom properties out as private dwellings.

"We know there is a high demand for rental accommodation in Nairn and the location is ideal with easy access to parking, the town centre and commuting distance to Inverness for young couples."

In 2015 after work was completed on the roof there were plans to convert the property, which dates back to 1852, into a nursery but these fell through.

Plans were approved for the church in 2010.
Plans were approved for the church in 2010.

Former chairwoman of the Nairn Businesses Association and Nairn West and Suburban Community Council Sheena Baker said: “This is excellent news and has been a long time coming. If the new owners can proceed swiftly and smoothly with the formation of the flats then part of that corner will be revitalised."

The Co-op also has plans for the redevelopment this year of their store nearby which would involve the restoration of the art deco gable overlooking the A96.

Mrs Baker added: "The Co-op promised in their capital spend that their main building is going to have an external overhaul later this summer, if that also happens then the blight of view at the Leopold Street lights will hopefully be a thing of the past.

"It would be good if this inspires others, including Highland Council Officers, to look at all the other empty properties in the centre of town that could, with the correct grant aid, be refurbished to provide good central living accommodation."

Manager of Nairn Connects BID, Lucy Harding added: "We welcome all efforts to bring old buildings back into use in Nairn. We are delighted to hear that the church has been bought be a local developer to be brought into use as flats."

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