Case study: Slains Kirk and Slains and Collieston Woodland Regeneration

What is the history of the building, monument or area?

Slains Kirk is located just to the north of the attractive coastal village of Collieston. There has been a church presence since the fifth century when St. Ternan is said to have established a base here, and the church has been a focus for the community through the centuries. The current church was built in 1805 and replaced an older one on the same site. The walls are of traditional solid stone construction, with the roof being pitched and slated. The property is a Category B-listed building.

Externally, the building is unchanged from 1805, apart from windows added on the North wall in the early 1900s, and the main entrance being moved from the East to the West end. Internally there have been several refurbishments, most recently in the 1980s. Previously, the building was owned by Ellon Church of Scotland and then was sold to SEAchange (Slains Environmental Action for Change) in 2021. It is currently an empty shell, though there are a few pews still in place.

The land for the community woodland is situated very close to the kirk building, just to the North on the Western side of the minor road on which Slains Kirk sits. It is extensive enough to enable the planting of a considerable number of trees. It is also near enough to the building to provide car parking, including accessible parking, which is essential for community use of the building.

How did the project begin and what community need(s) was it seeking to address?

The project came about as a combination of the former Slains Kirk building becoming available for purchase, community members being interested to find a new use for it and increasing local concerns around the need to reduce the village’s carbon footprint. Slains Kirk and the adjoining land was well-suited to tie all aspects together into a project that a number of people in the local community were happy to support.

A clear need of the community was also the establishment of an informal social hub, coupled with the need to reduce carbon impact. Reducing carbon impact is particularly important for our community, which is located in a rural area with generally older buildings with poor insulation and high energy usage. As our community is remote, there is also a lack of public transport and we use considerable energy to travel.

How did you source funding and support for the project?

SEAchange benefited from grant funding from Formartine Area Committee, Architectural Heritage Fund and Scottish Land Fund as well as a number of very generous donations by community members. Up to the time of writing, the group have applied for funding directly.

Scottish Civic Trust also assisted our group with identifying potential funding, and we have now enlisted the help of Community Enterprise to generate a detailed plan for funding.

How did the project progress from inception to delivery? What obstacles did you overcome and what were the major milestones?

Our first task was to identify the needs and wishes of the community. Through a number of drop-in sessions, a village gala and online engagement, community members shared their ideas for the site. These were then formed into a proposal with the help of Blue Nimbus consultancy, who also carried out a feasibility study.

Impact Hub (through Just Enterprise) then assisted with the formation of a business plan for a café to be run within the Kirk building. Highland Community Resources ran an independent ballot to ascertain the community’s thoughts on the café and community woodland ideas. 40% of the community turned out for the ballot, and 74% of voters were in favour of the proposal.

Following acceptance of the proposal by the community, we then successfully obtained grant funding from the Scottish Land Fund to buy the former Kirk building and an adjacent field for the planting of a woodland. The community was then further consulted on plans for a path through the proposed woodland and their concerns were addressed through updates to the proposed route and type of path.

Throughout the pandemic, we held online meetings and put out regular communications through or social media and newsletter to update the community on the project’s progress and keep them engaged.  It is expected that further community consultation will be held over the summer months in 2022 in order to refresh and update the overall proposal for the use of the former Kirk building.

What has been the impact of the project on the community? 

We’ve held numerous events with the community to discuss ideas for how to be more eco-friendly, and over 50 local volunteers have helped with a tree planting exercise. Taking part in volunteering as part of the project has multiple benefits for community members, including increased wellbeing and social cohesion. The woodland will also provide important biodiversity habitats, as Collieston and Slains is a significant site for both common and rare migratory birds.

By retrofitting an old stone building, the project can inspire other local initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and will serve as a model of what is possible in private homes of similar age and construction. It is calculated that the woodland component of the project alone will offset the emissions from annual commuter return journeys to Aberdeen for 54 cars. This is a visible step towards a carbon-neutral Collieston and Slains.

What’s next for your project? 

With the help of Community Enterprise, we’ll be updating the project proposal to ensure it remains fit for purpose following the impacts of the pandemic. Then we’ll update our architectural plans accordingly and put together a package of funding to make the revised proposal a reality. At the same time, we’ll finalise the woodland area plans and source funding for that part of the project.

We continue to engage the community at every opportunity to ensure all activity remains on track to meet the needs and wishes of the community as a whole. We are keen that the project inspires further eco-friendly activity within the community, and that we continue to play a part in a growing local network of similar minded organisations.

To learn more about SEAchange and their regeneration project: