COLONSAY CHURCHES - Parish Church Belfry Appeal



A Problem of Stewardship - an unstable belfry

Please find the latest news at the top of the page, but all previous news and background can be found further down.

The VERY latest news, November 12th 2016

Our service of rededication on October 18th was led by Alastair Scouller and was attended by a strong congregation of well-wishers. This particular project is, thankfully, now complete. We will now concentrate upon normal maintenance, based upon the funds available through the Fabric Fund. We will also undertake two major additional projects, arising from the decision to concentrate all worship within our own building - we must immediately improve our very basic Disabled Access, and we must also take steps to exclude livestock from the immediate cutailage of the building.


The news, September 5th 2016

The work is now totally complete, our scaffolding is away, the grass is recovering, the bell is being used, all bills have been paid, all outstanding grants have been either received or are being processed... so at last we can celebrate. We plan to have a service of rededication on Tuesday 18th October at 6.30pm - please join us. The service will be led by Alasdair Scouller, who has been involved in this project since the beginning, and he will be joined by Rev. Cliff Jackson, our visiting minister for that week. Afterwards, we hope that there will be time for some fellowship within the church, to be followed by further jollifications opposite, at the Colonsay Hotel. This has been an extraordinary year, very worrying in many ways yet blessed by the support and generosity of so very many people - the Congregational Board is most grateful and hopes that you will be able to come to see the magnificent restoration, perhaps on 18th October but otherwise on your next visit to Colonsay.


The News, August 8th 2016 ( to contribute ) [We do still need to restore our basic Fabric Fund!]

SUCCESS! Happily we can report that Rowan Stoneworks have now fully reinstated our much-loved belfry, and that the work has been inspected and approved by our conservation architect, Rebecca Cadie. Very shortly, the scaffolding will be removed and we will be able to publish a photograph here. In the meantime, we have written to all our major sponsors and via a notice in the Oban Times, to report this important milestone.

All that remains, we hope, is to receive and pay the bills and then to submit detailed accounts to our main sponsors. We also need to try to progress our application for recovery of VAT under the Listed Places of Worship scheme, a very important application worth almst £10,000 and crucial to our budget.

As readers will know, the Church of Scotland and the Baptist Church pursue a programme of joint worship and work closely together. When the misfortune of the dangerous belfry became apparent, our friends in the Baptist congregation immediately pledged assistance and even went so far as to offer to lend funds from their own fabric fund. Fortunately we hope to have managed without accepting that most generous offer, but must record a further very generous contribution. Colonsay Fire Brigade recently hosted a Ceilidh to support the churches in Colonsay and the Baptist congregation unanimously determined to contribute their portion of the proceeds towards our fund - a gesture that is truly appreciated on every level.

Our main sponsors were: National Churches Trust £3,000; J. Murray Napier Fund of St. Columba's Church, London £2,000; Allchurches Trust £2,000; Baird Trust £10,000; Garfield Weston Foundation £5,000; Royal Scottish Shipping Line Ltd. £3,000

In addition to public support and anonymous donations, we received support from Colonsay Estate, Colonsay Fire Brigade and Colonsay Baptist Church; furthermore, the exhibition of work contributed by Artists and Craftsfolk raised almost £3,000. After all the bills are paid and our paperwork is complete, we will update this page with a final report and with details of an event to mark the success of this campaign.

1. The Initial Appeal

2. The 1st update

3. The 2nd update

4. The 3rd update

5. The 4th update

6. The 5th update

7. The 6th update

8. How to contribute


1. The Initial Appeal

In the recent past, we almost had to close the church because of two Georgian windows which were in danger of imploding. We launched an appeal and there was a most generous response - within the year we were able to replace both windows and to complete all outstanding repairs; we also moved our maintenance onto a proactive footing and already the contract is in place to complete further desirable work at both church and manse in 2016. We are resolved upon a programme of good stewardship and in future all maintenance will be positive and timely, rather than a matter of patching and repairing. One can follow these links to see full details of the Windows Appeal and the report on Windows Success. Please do not think that ours is a hopeless case, or that the church is not properly cared-for, just take a look at Windows Success to be re-assured.

Things were going well, but an ominous note did appear in the Windows Appeal report of 6th June 2015, in the following terms:

"One new and remarkable challenge cannot be ignored - we simply must recognise that the belfry is in a parlous condition! It is a simple structure, described as of birdcage design - four stone uprights support a stone canopy with a football-sized stone finial. The four uprights hold the structure together by iron pins at top and bottom, and in the course of 200 years these pins have corroded, expanded and burst the stonework. The Session Clerk has already written to the conservation officer of Argyll & Bute Council and will also be approaching Historic Scotland for advice... qualified stonemasons will be needed but there is some slight hope that assistance might be obtained from funding organisations e.g. the National Lottery."


The subsequent story

At first, we ran into great difficulties. Although the Parish Church is a listed building, both Argyll & Bute Council and Historic Scotland proved to be unable to give even the whiff of any helpful advice or information. Parishioners were conscious of the obligations of good stewardship, not least in regard to Health and Safety, but had no expertise in structural conservation. After further abortive attempts to engage with the relevant authorities we turned instead to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, who proved to be a godsend. With their guidance we contacted Rebecca Cadie, a Conservation Architect, and with their financial support we were able to arrange a site visit; specialist access equipment was needed, and this was generously provided by Alex and Jane Howard of Colonsay Estate. Things then moved quickly, our architect drew up plans to dismantle, restore and re-erect the belfry, she then obtained quotations from three experienced stonemasons and sought planning permission from Argyll & Bute Council; it is only fair to note that the the Planning Department was helpful and has advanced the project.

The project itself:

Phase 1 costing £20,000, all of which must be raised by this Appeal

Work is to be undertaken in two stages. During Phase 1 the belfry was to be made safe, and the simplest procedure was to dismantle it professionally before it could fall down. There was more to this than meets the eye - experienced stonemasons had to travel from the mainland, arrange for scaffolding and safe working conditions, record and identify every detail for subsequent re-erection, then dismantle the structure and lower the various parts to the ground. This work was costed at £18,280 and we had already had placed an order for a new specially made cast-iron gutter for the vestry at £2,500. Parishioners are very hopeful that they will obtain substantial grant aid towards the overall cost of the Belfry Restoration, but because of the safety implications there could be no delay with Phase 1. This is a straightforward commitment to pay £20,000 and it will NOT be eligible for assistance, since grants are not awarded retrospectively.

Please bear in mind that Colonsay has just 135 inhabitants, almost 90 of whom are either pensioners or schoolchildren. The regular congregation is necessarily quite small, so £20,000 is a daunting sum. The belfry itself is not vital to the conduct of worship, but it is a specifically listed feature of architectural importance and its restoration in Phase 2 will hopefully attract substantial financial suport from the appropriate grant-giving bodies. This does not help as regards Phase 1 - the burden of this cost falls entirely upon the local community and whatever assistance may be forthcoming from friends, wellwishers, former residents and the worldwide descendants of all those who have worshipped in Colonsay, and whose baptism, marriage or funeral took place within these embracing walls.

Phase 2 costing £40,000, all of which we hope will be grant-funded

During Phase 2 the component parts will be carefully examined and restored. The original structure was made of limestone but it was held together by iron pins. In the course of two centuries these pins have swollen with rust and burst the rather elegant upright supports, together with some sections of the canopy. The finial ball has eroded almost to one half of its size and is also supported by an iron pin. The bell is in excellent condition, but is swung upon an oaken beam that needs to be renewed, and the iron gantry will need to be examined for possible weakness. New stones will be cut to replace the broken or eroded work, and the axle and support for the bell will be restored. When all is ready, the stonemasons must return to Colonsay, re-erect their scaffolding and platforms and then reinstate the belfry, good for at least another 200 years.

Because the cost of the entire work was front-loaded, placing a burden of £20,000 upon those who support this appeal, we are very hopeful that the entire cost of Phase 2 will be funded by grant-giving bodies. Our case for such support is, we hope, strengthened by the fact that the work is pro bono publico, to be enjoyed by the world at large, rather than for the specific good of worshipping parishioners. There is also the fact that the church plays a full part in community life, is always open for private prayer or contemplation, is freely available for appropriate secular use and provides mortuary facilities, regardless of creed.

Some background - this church is architecturally important

The modest appearance of Colonsay Parish Church belies its significance. Argyll is a very large area, and very rich in churches, all of which are well-loved but very few of which bear comparison with this tiny, isolated but almost perfect jewel. If one sets aside the surviving pre-reformation ecclesiastical buildings of Argyll, one thinks instead of such fine examples as the round church at Bowmore, or the splendid island church at Dalmally. There are also some tiny chapels, such as at Bridge of Orchy, and Victorian gems, such as Crianlarich (Thomas Ross, 1901).... but there are many which are less distinguished.

On the other hand, there is an interesting strand of architectural development which might be seen to originate with Castlehill Church,Campbeltown, where a fine classical church is attributed to George Haswell, "Chief Wright to the Dukes of Argyll". It was built in 1779 and may have inspired the brilliant design for A' Chleit, the church of Killean Parish, built in 1787-1791 and which, it may be noted, was erected without a belfry. The contractor was Thomas Cairns, but the architect of A' Chleit is uncertain; Haswell had died in 1784, but had been working at Inveraray in conjunction with Robert Mylne, and both Castlehill and A' Chleit are very much in the classical mould that he favoured. Robert Mylne, Royal master mason and Surveyor to St. Paul's Cathedral, was certainly responsible for much work at Inveraray Castle and new town, where he designed the magnificent double-church, completed in 1802.

In the meantime, Colonsay had no adequate church and the incumbent, Rev. Alexander Stuart, was translated from the parish in June 1791 to accept a call from A' Chleit (consecrated in 1790), where he became the first minister of the newly built church. His successor in Jura and Colonsay was the Rev. Francis Stewart, followed in May 1796 by the energetic if litigious Rev. Donald McNicol, who successfully pressed for a church to be built. It seems that the new church at A' Chleit had been very satisfactory and Presbytery adopted it as a conceptual design. In November 1801 the brief was awarded to Michael Carmichael, yet another Inveraray architect, and the building was completed the following year. Carmichael may have had access to the original A' Chleit drawings, but in any case he produced a design for Colonsay which was similar but reduced in scale and slightly modified. He added exterior staircases to serve the galleries, and volunteered the flourish of a belfry, the present source of woe. The total cost was £444.15s 2d, plus £41. 15s. 2d for fittings and furnishings.

The Colonsay church was built upon the site of a mediaeval chapel, as can be seen from Blaeu's map of 1654, which was itself built beside a cist grave from the Bronze Age. The official listing is rather bald: "Piended slate roof. Round-headed windows. Projecting central pavilion; curious belfry; semi-circular bay with semi-conical roof. Interior re-cast (Formerly had gallery entered from outside stairs, now removed, at ends). Coombed panelled ceiling." The Royal Commission surveyors were a little more forthcoming, noting that the church "stands on an elongated D-shaped platform circumscribed by a rubble wall. It is a plain hip-roofed rectangular structure measuring 14.35m from N to S by 8.85m transversely over cement-rendered rubble walls 0.7m in thickness. The principal, or E, frontage has an advanced and pedimented centrepiece, fronted by a single-storeyed and round-ended vestry and is flanked by a pair of large semicircular-headed windows. There is a blind oculus immediately above the vestry, and the pediment is surmounted by a simple bird-cage belfry with ogival-topped canopy and ball-finial; a bell remains in situ. The W elevation contains two similar windows, and the main entrance is set within a plain porch in the centre of the N end-wall. This porch and a shed built against the S wall represent the lower surviving portions of external forestairs, which formerly gave access to lofts at each end of the building". It is odd to notice that RCAHM failed to comment upon the magnificent coombed wooden ceiling, one of the finest features of the interior, and that they failed to remark the delicate fleurs de lys which grace the main Georgian lights, or even the rather fine octagonal pulpit, symbolising the interface between the regularity of our earthly life (foursquare) and the profound immensity of the heavenly realms (a perfect circle).


Back to reality

Regardless of any architectural or historic significance, we do need to maintain this church in good order for practical and aesthetic reasons, and also because it is a legal obligation upon the congregation as custodians of a listed building. There is no avoiding the fact that we have to raise £20,000 in one way or another, and for this we need all the help we can get. A leaflet can be viewed here and printed copies are available if you feel you could use them in some way.

How to contribute

Details are given below, but please note that any UK taxpayer can use Gift Aid to boost their contribution by 25% (assuming 20% tax rate) if they are happy to complete a simple but necessary declaration. This is of huge significance, here is a copy of the relevant Gift Aid form. Incidentally, donors can save on postage stamps, bank charges and administrative costs if families find it convenient to make a joint contribution, but the parish is of course deeply grateful to receive contributions in whatever way they come.

The results of this appeal will be published here and updated until the work is completed - please note that contributions by BACS or via Just Giving may take a few days to appear as we have to wait for the monthly paper statement to arrive. We will be delighted to publish brief dedications on this page if any donor cares to nominate any forebear(s) with a Colonsay or Oronsay connection and it is our intention to create a Page of Remembrance in due course, where it will be possible to record the name, dates and brief details of any Colonsay person whom a descendant might wish to commemorate.

Our first donation: we have been given the invaluable opportunity of launching a Press Release completely free of charge, by courtesy of Pressat, who give free advice on such matters and offer support to registered charities. Normally there would be a charge of £110 + VAT per release, so we are immensely grateful. Pressat is a trading style of ATMEDIA LTD, Hope Mill, 113 Pollard St, Manchester, M4 7JB

The Church of Scotland parish of Colonsay and Oronsay (No. 211300) is a registered Scottish Charity No: SC031271

1st Update: Monday December 7th 2015 - over £8,000 donated!

Our Appeal was launched last week, upon St. Andrew's Day and we were very fortunate. Julia Horton secured coverage in The Herald and The Scotsman, and our own Oban Times also devoted a column to the issue. All told, the Press Release went to more than 200 contacts, and only time will tell the full effect. The response has already been very encouraging - we need to raise £20,000 and one individual immediately contributed a magnificent £2,000, "to get the ball rolling"! Most contributions are rather more modest, and no less welcome - many people use our JustGiving page, but others have sent cheques and cash. Then again, I have tonight been told of another amazing gesture, a donation of £5,000; it seems hard to believe - the donor is anonymous and all we can do is to express our heartfelt thanks. It is very hard to keep an exact account, but we seem to have passed the level of £8,000 and various pledges have been received, including a very generous monthly sum from one family. I should also mention that at least two local businesses have been very generous with both money and practical assistance.

We have produced a poster to promote the Arts Bazaar which will run alongside the Colonsay Festival of Spring in 2016. Please have a look - if you are an artist or a craftsperson, perhaps you can contribute to this exciting project. That poster will be distributed to every parish in Argyll, together with our Appeal leaflet - there are Colonsay folk scattered throughout the county and we hope they might spot the poster and be tempted to help.

Applications for grant-aid have been submitted to three agencies to date, and we are also following our architect's advice in attempting to recover VAT on the project to date. Physical work was to have started on 14th December but the recent storms have caused great transport disruption and the start has therefore been postponed until early January. Of course, that presupposes that a storm in the meantime does not convert the whole affair into an insurance claim... How to contribute

2nd Update: Monday January 4th 2016 - nearly two-thirds of the way!

All in Colonsay wish the world Peace and Happiness in 2016 - and offer our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has already supported our Belfry Appeal. Despite some ferocious weather in December, the belfry is still standing - to be honest, the wind has been strong and steady, but has not reached especially high speeds, perhaps gusting no higher than 65 knots. Much higher speeds are likely in an average Colonsay winter, so we are glad to know that our contractors, Rowan Stonework, hope to be on site on January 18th if the weather is suitable. Of course, where there is work being done, there will be a bill on the near horizon. This first stage of the work has to go ahead before any public or private funding agencies can have time to consider our application, so this is the phase that we must fund by way of our appeal. Our target of £20,000 is to fund Phase 1 and a related project, the commissioning and installation of a bespoke curved cast-iron gutter for the vestry, below the belfry.

Our news to date is simply astounding! The Appeal started a month ago, and a number of very generous donations gave it a flying start; I our first report we had reached £8,000 and since then the donations have just kept coming - please have a look at our JustGiving page and see how so many people have been so very generous. The total on that page is already nudging £3,000 including the Gift Aid (which is automatically applied if you donate via that site). Although there is an annual fee for that facility, it has been sponsored by a local business here in Colonsay, so ALL funds go directly to the appeal. As far as can be seen, we are fast approaching the two-thirds mark, £13,333.33p

Please do keep up the momentum - if you are thinking of helping, now would be an excellent time. To pay the contractors at the end of this month we will have to rob Peter to pay Paul - if the insurance or electricity falls due our Treasurer will need to execute some fancy footwork. We hope that summer visitors to Colonsay will help, also visiting members of the congregation, and that the Arts Bazaar will be a huge success, but anything donated now will be very welcome.

The Arts Bazaar is quite exciting - a number of people have offered some outstanding examples of Art or Craftwork, but we will be delighted to hear of more. We plan to produce a proper catalogue and for this to be replicated online - anybody with a personal or ancestral connection with Colonsay will be able to see the catalogue and have the opportunity to make a purchase. How to contribute

3rd Update, March 1st 2016 - still needing almost £20,000

The latest news is very significant. The belfry has now been safely dismantled by Rowan Stoneworks (end of Stage 1) and removed to their premises for restoration (Stage 2, authorised today). The work by both the scaffolders and by the stonemasons was exemplary, it was carried out to the highest standards and both teams created excellent rapport locally. Now that we have authorised Stage 2, we have suddenly been advised of a very major financial advantage provided we can authorise Stage 3 (the re-instatement) and thereby finish the project by mid June 2016. Under the circumstances, it would be folly to reject this amazing opportunity, so the revised position is as follows:

Total cost excluding VAT (which is recovarable) £50,000. Total funds raised locally to date - a little more than £15,000; total benefit of grants and revised completion date - £15,000. Therefore we now have a shortfall of slightly less than £20,000, against which we had already been aiming to raise another £5,000 locally. There is the possibility of one or two further grants, but we cannot rely upon them - we therefore have to make every effort to raise every penny we can.

We hope to make a major dent in the target by way of the Arts & Crafts Bazaar, which opens on March 17th and runs until mid-May; the catalogue is currently in preparation and will also be available on line. A number of artists and craftsfolk have donated a wide range of examples of their work - they include members of the congregation and also persons from far and wide, including some well-known figures. The exhibition will ensure that many people will visit or hear about the church, and is just one of the ways in which we hope to make it more relevant to a changing society.

Please support the exhibition, and do be generous. Incidentally, during March most solicitors offer a free will-writing service, in exchange for which they suggest that the testator could nominate a charity to receive a small bequest (about £100 or so). If you happen to be taking up such an offer, do please consider Colonsay Parish Church as your possible beneficiary - SC 031271.

4th Update, April 12th 2016 - still needing £8,000

Pretty good news all round. First of all Baird Trust has awarded a most generous grant of £10,000, thus halving our shortfall. Secondly, our Arts & Crafts Exhibition is now open and through sales and donations has already raised £2,000 - so at present we are struggling to raise the final £8,000. Please have a look at our online Exhibition Catalogue - maybe there will be something there to tempt you? Of course, simple donations are also very welcome, whether by PayPal, cheque, cash, Bank Transfer, JustGiving facility or whatever - full details appear on this page. Please remember that GiftAid contributions attract a 25% bonus via HMRC (prefectly legal, not a form of tax avoidance!).

On a practical front - the new stone for the belfry has been selected, with very detailed technical advice, and the stonemasons hope to prepare it in time for re-erection in June. Some tonnes of accumulated soil have been removed from the surface of the former road which borders the church platform, thus creating up to seven parking spaces and greatly enhancing access. Within the church, and in connection with the exhibition, a "black-out" facility has been created so that in future it will be possible to have illustrated PowerPoint lectures and presentations.

We hope that by July we will be in a position to use the bell once again, to be rung before each service and to mark other important events. If anybody happens to know much about bell-ringing with a single bell, please do get in touch; very possibly there is a certain etiquette that might be important - there are unlikely to be many tunes.

Meanwhile, do please support the Arts & Crafts Exhibition, whether in person or online. We would like to staff it every afternoon from 4 to 6 pm and would be delighted to hear from volunteers, including visitors who might be able to help. If you can help, please call 01951 200320 or add your name to the rota at the shop.

In view of recent current affairs, many of us will be updating our wills and conceivably including very small charitable bequests; if so please consider Colonsay Parish Church as one possible beneficiary - SC 031271.

5th Update, May 3rd 2016 - still needing £3,000 May 3rd 2016


After this latest news was published, literally the very next morning, we received an wonderful message from Denice Purdie, to say that Royal Scottish Shipping Line would meet our vital shortfall of £3,000 in full. This gesture was so unexpected as to leave us (almost) dumbstruck, the task of fund-raising has been very worrying and it is an extraordinary relief to have been advised of this very great act of generosity, coming as it does upon the heels of all the other support to date, as described below. Thank you, one and all, for such an amazing response. Hopefully our next report may have news of the re-instatement and afterwards we will be announcing a suitable event to celebrate the conclusion of the project.

With just 6 weeks to go, we have been more than fortunate to have been granted £5,000 by a family trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation. This is a wonderful boost, leaving us with "only" £3,000 to find. On the other hand, that is still an awful lot of money when you need it but haven't got it.

Our Arts & Crafts exhibition is simply full of wonderful things for sale, all gifted by their creators and the proceeds of which go in their entirety towards the Belfry appeal. Unfortunately, like many communities, Colonsay has many very deserving causes in need of funds just now; parishioners are well aware of this and can only hope that persons of goodwill may be able to include the Belfry Appeal in any apportioning of their charitable giving. Please do look at the catalogue, the exhibition runs until mid-May and online purchases are very welcome.

We know that we are up against it now, although Colonsay residents and friends have done their best; we desperately need to raise the final £3,000 so are launching a Press Release in the hope of help from the wider world. Incidentally, we would like to thank Pressat for their very great generosity in hosting this Press Release, and also offer our thanks to Fiona Holland. PR Manager for CalMac Ferries Ltd., for providing both moral and technical support,

Once again, if you happen to be updating your will, do please consider including Colonsay Parish Church as the possible beneficiary of even a very tiny bequest (Charity Number SC 031271).

6th Update, June 20th 2016

Things are now at a very exciting stage - the stonemasons, Rowan Stoneworks, are expected to arrive on July 11th to re-instate the belfry. Working with our architect, Rebecca Cadie, this Argyllshire firm has carefully sourced stone that closely matches the original and has now prepared all of the component parts. Please see the pictures, below.

Our fundraising has been crowned with success, thanks to the the very unexpected intervention recorded in our STOP PRESS of May 3rd. Thus, in addition to our very generous private donors we can express our public thanks to the following:

National Churches Trust £3,000; J. Murray Napier Fund of St. Columba's Church, London £2,000; Allchurches Trust £2,000; Baird Trust £10,000; Garfield Weston Foundation £5,000; Royal Scottish Shipping Line Ltd. £3,000

As can be imagined, all additional support is immensely welcome, and for this reason we are extending the season for the Arts Exhibition within the Parish Church. We are grateful for continuing support - please visit the exhibition if you are able to do so. We now intend to allow it to run until mid-August; in addition we hope to benefit by the kindness of Colonsay Fire Brigade who will hold a fund-raising Ceilidh on July 16th, with proceeds to be shared between the two churches in Colonsay.

One crucial part of our funding depends upon a successful application to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, under the Listed Places of Worship grant scheme. Our treasurer is working on that application at present, which in effect is related to VAT to a total of about £10,000. We hope that the application will be successful, in which case we will shortly turn our thoughts to an appropriate time and date for a re-dedication event. In the meantime, all parishioners join in expressing heartfelt thanks for the support and hope you will enjoy these pictures. They show: one of the new corner piers - the originals had all been burst by the rusting of internal iron pins; the new oak and stainless steel bell-hanging gear; and work-in-progress on the new ball finial. All quite amazing!


See our Press Release, May 3rd 2016

See press release when the Appeal was launched, St. Andrew's Day 2015; and the original Appeal Leaflet

Site Map and Links