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HIE funding to support former Easter Ross church transformation

Published: 05/10/2020

Plans to purchase and develop a former church in Easter Ross into a facility for the community and visitors, are a step closer with the completion of the funding package.

the former Free Presbyterian Church

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has awarded £48,500 to community organisation The Seaboard Memorial Hall (SMH) who will acquire and refurbish the former Free Presbyterian Church situated between Hilton and Balintore.

The new community-owned facility will offer social and learning opportunities for around 3,200 local residents as well as visitors to the area.

A donation of £54,000 for the purchase of the building has also been received from the Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian Church (PCPC) in South Korea.

The area has strong Korean connections due to its links with John Ross, a missionary born in Rariche, Easter Ross. He was the first person to translate The Bible’s New Testament into Korean in 1887 and later returned to Edinburgh in 1910 where he died five years later.

Following a visit by the PCPC in July 2019, it was decided the building would be called the ‘John Ross Memorial Centre’ and refurbishment would be funded mainly by the PCPC.

HIE’s grant will support the cost of the purchase and legal fees, and SMH is contributing some of its own funds for the project.  

The community group intends to relocate the lower half of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, which dates to about 800 AD and is currently situated in the Seaboard Memorial Hall. The top half of the stone is located at the National Museum of Scotland. Its new home at the John Ross Memorial Centre will provide more space for visitors to see the significant Pictish artefact.

Other local historic items will be moved to the memorial hall and will be on display for visitors. More educational activities will be delivered with the new location providing additional space.

Paul Harrington, development manager at HIE, said: “We are delighted to be in a position to help The Seaboard Memorial Hall finalise their funding package to enable them to purchase and refurbish the old Free Presbyterian Church. The facility will help the community increase tourism levels and provide improved facilities to the Seaboard Villages. Relocating the stone there and with the history and connection of John Ross with South Korea, more visitors will be enticed to come and see and hear about the history of the area and the people.”

Maureen Ross from SMH, said: “We are really pleased that HIE has supported us with this project, enabling us to take the project to the delivery stage. The John Ross Memorial Centre will be an important resource at the heart of the villages that will bring people together and attract more visitors. We thank everyone who has worked hard to bring us to this stage.”

SMH plays an important part in the community and supports eight part-time jobs.

During lockdown SMH took on the role of supporting the nearby communities including Nigg, Fearn and Portmahomack, as well as Balintore, Hilton of Cadboll and Shandwick, known locally as the Seaboard Villages. Funding was received from the Scottish Government’s Supporting Communities Fund, which is administered in the region by HIE. The group supported families who lost their income sources and provided access to essentials and kept them up to date with the latest Covid-19 announcements through a newsletter.

The community group continues to manage and operate the Seaboard Memorial Hall, although current restrictions have meant much adapting. They are no strangers to resilience and look forward to the SMH being used for local functions and events once again in the future. 

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