Issue 231
May/June 2024


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May 21, 2024

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Prof. Tony to the rescue…

An academic architect's altruistic purchase of a rural Aberdeemshire church could set a welcome precedent. Watch this space.

THE RECENT rescue of a small parish church in rural Aberdeenshire could set a pattern for future efforts to save important parts of our built heritage.

Appropriately enough, the rescue has been master minded by an eminent academic architect who "just felt I had to act."

Professor Antony Eddison – 'Tony' to the community he has elected to join – has a distinguished record as an architect educator responsible for establishing centres of architectural learning in many countries across the world.

Hands-on Professor Eddison at Udny kirk

With the untimely death of his French wife, Natalie, Tony decided it was time to draw a line under this global educational operation and, for the sake of his family of three sons and a daughter, put down roots once more in the UK.. On his visits to Scotland he had often driven through Udny Green and admired the church, so when he saw the For Sale signs go up he knew what he had to do.

In the event, he was given little time to act. Local prebyteries and the Church of Scotland property board in Edinburgh have come under fierce criticism for the haste with which many individual church sales have been conducted.

The director of the charity Scotland's Churches Trust (SCT) has also been highly critical of the C of S's lack of openness over its plans, refusing as they have, requests to publish a list of churches at risk.

The Udny Green church sale was no exception. Indeed it had something of a cloak and dagger feel about it, with a public meeting offering little clarity and the very real – and bizarre – prospect that the church might well be turned into, of all things, an indoor pool devoted to teaching children to swim!

As it happened, Professor Eddison's bid (of £115,000) was successful and it soon became clear that the right team had been chosen to take on the daunting task.

Tony and his son James were almost immediately to be seen, tools in hand, turning the rusty iron railings around the church a tasteful dark green. It became clear that, for all his architectural eminence, Professor Tony was not above rolling up his sleeves and getting on with the job – something the property's previous guardians had signally failed to do in recent years, with windows left unpainted and gutters uncleared.

Almost as soon as it had changed hands, the newly reborn kirk was hosting its first funeral. Prof Tony's driving force is not a particularly religious one. He explained that all forms of celebration would be welcome, mentioning in particular, today's popularity of humanist celebrations.

It is an ironic fact that for the North East farming community, the funeral has come to constitute one of the most important social occasions, given that with modern methods, tending fields and beasts has become for most farmers a very solitary occupation, with even the mart going, to a large extent online..

Though the hosting of funerals – and weddings – will be an important part of the church's raison d'être – they in the themselves will not generate sufficient funds to support the upkeep of the property.

Other social activities such as concerts (the church boasts a superb small Harrison & Harrison organ) and makers' markets will help, but a programme of remote learning, supplemented by occasional workshop events will be key to establishing financial stability. As Prof Tony explains: "There will be a focus on developing new ways of unlocking creativity and innovation in business and education, inspired by the application of Design Thinking, Fablab Maker-Spaces and Lego Serious Play".

He made this undertaking: "The kirk is now in safe hands and as its new custodians, our intention is to set up a Not-For-Profit NGO that will ensure the kirk will remain central both as a beautiful village icon and a place of real value to the communities it will continue to serve."For those wanting to contribute, there is a GoFundMe page: Saving Udny Green Kirk together, organized by Antony Eddison.

BILL WILLIAMS



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