21st Century way to preserve heritage and meet social need.

Humans are social animals and since our earliest days on earth we have come together to mark significant events with rituals and ceremonies. While the painted caves and stone circles of pre history remain a mystery, the one thing we can be sure of is they were places where people gathered together in some ritualistic way.

Nearly all faiths have built special spaces for their ceremonies and the beautiful churches found in every corner of Britain are a testament to our Christian traditions. While today church attendance may be falling with fewer people professing any particular religious beliefs than of old, the spiritual drivers to mark special moments in people’s lives such as naming ceremonies, partnerships and death itself are as strong as ever.

I recently visited the Lansdowne Church in Glasgow which has been acquired by the Four Acres Charitable Trust. Their mission is to save this magnificent, architectural gem with its outstanding stained glass on a sustainable basis so the building can be preserved for future generations. 

To achieve this, their strategy is to develop the church as a community hub. There is an existing theatre and bistro and there are plans to extend the use of an upper hall, all of which will provide the funding going forward to give the building a sustainable future. They have already proven the model in another old Glasgow church and its success is helping support this project.

This strategy is essentially a commercial one, running a profitable business with the profits being re-invested in the project’s work. A true Social Enterprise. An important part of the funding mix has been social investment which going forward the sustainable business model will be able to repay. 

One of the advantages of borrowed investment capital over grant funding is that the investment money can form a part of the Trust’s unrestricted funds allowing them far greater flexibility to develop the project in their own time, using tradesmen from the community they want to help. They needn't be restricted by the confines of grant conditions about procurement.

On the face of it the vision (the preservation of a Church) and the strategy to achieve it (running a financially successful bistro, theatre and community hub) seem to be at odds with one another but I believe that this project represents a great example of charitable and social needs working together to provide a sustainable 21st Century solution.  The restored building retains its ritualistic use while serving the needs of the community with weddings, wakes and other celebrations.