Plans for Forfar Community Church

NEW plans to re-develop the former Wellbrae Primary School site, which has been the focus of much debate in recent years, have been revealed.

Two separate applications have been lodged with Angus Council planners which, if approved, could pave the way for the former school building to be converted into 16 flats, whilst the remainder of the site, including the former school dining hall and nursery block, would be combined to provide a unique Baptist church – the first of its kind in the country within the Baptist Union.

Since staff and pupils moved out of the school in 2007 there have been numerous calls for the site to be used as a community centre.

Meanwhile, the Northern Light Trust has been searching for a suitable site for a Baptist church, which has operated temporarily at the Strathmore Cricket Club.

Now, the Rev. Oliver Vellacott of the Northern Light Trust, and David Shepherd, director of Taylor Shepherd Homes based at Restenneth House in Forfar, believe they have come up with the ideal solution which, they hope, will silence the critics.

Mr Shepherd said: “We currently have listed building consent for converting the school into flats, and have now re-submitted an application for planning permission.

“We have listened to the views of the community and feel this application, along with that of the Rev. Vellacott, ticks all the boxes.”

If given the go-ahead the Baptist church would initially use the former nursery block to the north of the site.

The Rev. Vellacott added: “We are adopting a co-ordinated approach whereby David re-develops the main school building, and we develop the northern part of the site by connecting the two existing buildings.”

The former dining hall will be re-developed to include a vestry, worship area, kitchen space and baptism pool.

At a time when many churches throughout the country are closing, the Rev. Vellacott is delighted the Baptist church, which will be known as the Forfar Community Church, is within touching distance.

He continued: “The Baptist Union is involved but the church will be called the Forfar Community Church. A lot of Baptist churches are now calling themselves community churches, primarily for reasons of people mis-understanding what ‘Baptist’ is all about, confusing us with a number of sects.

“We are completely traditional orthodox in terms of Christian doctrine, but independent of hierarchy.

“There is a Baptist Union of about 170 Baptist churches in Scotland.

“We are delighted that the Union is supporting this right the way through, particularly as it is starting from scratch.

“Very often, when a new church is started, it is started by an existing big church, providing some of the initial congregation. There is no such situation like that here in Forfar, although we will be working closely with Montrose Baptists.”

Acknowledging calls for a community centre on the site, the Rev. Vellacott stated he had given a presentation to Forfar Community Council and, whilst the proposals were not what had been envisaged, they had been fully informed.

He continued: “We are keen for the premises to be used, where they can, by community groups.

“Our primary purpose is to establish a church. This is actually the only church plant in the whole of Scotland that is starting from scratch and will not have financial input directly from another church.

“There will be financial input from the Baptist Union, particularly for the minister’s stipend, so we are in a slightly unique position in that respect.

“We are bringing a couple in to be full-time workers to make contact in the community, but it is a slow process, starting from scratch.”

Commenting on the time-scale for the project, Mr Shepherd hoped the building work would begin in January.

He explained: “We are excited to be able to get a compromise solution for the site. It preserves the listed setting the planners were concerned about by leaving the dining hall and the nursery unit there, in its present form, and the school still sits in that setting.

“We have re-looked at the configuration of the main building itself. There had been criticism of some of the units, they were too large for the site, so we have reduced the size of those.

“We have listened to the community, we have gone “back to the drawing board” and have listened to public opinion. You can never please everyone all the time, but I think we tick a lot of boxes as far as the community is concerned. It’s a great mixed use for the site - it’s win - win.”

If given the go-ahead, it is envisaged work on the former dining area would begin first.

Once completed the school building itself would then be converted into 16 flats, with the central area of the school forming an attractive open courtyard.