‘Save Bellfield’ Public Meeting

A minute of the public meeting held on
Saturday 16th April 2016 at TRIBE PORTY

Present: 70 people were in attendance (see attendance sheet)

1. Introduction

Alastair Cameron opened the meeting by welcoming those present, and explaining the reason for calling the public meeting, namely to explore the possible community buy out of Portobello Old Parish Church. He stressed that this was still very much at an exploratory stage and looked forward to hearing people’s thoughts and views on the proposal. AC outlined the proposed structure of the meeting, before introducing Justin Kenrick.

2. Background, Outline and Possible Paths Ahead

Justin Kenrick touched on the history of the church and described the background to the proposal. He went on to suggest that 3 questions needed answered:

  • What community needs does it meet now and should also meet going forward?
  • What can make it financially viable/sustainable?
  • How can we ensure that it also meets Funders requirements?

JK encourage the meeting to think about creatively about the use of space and outlined one strand of ideas for those present to respond to and discuss.

3. Practical route map to a community buy out

Ian Cooke then summarised what activity had taken place prior to the meeting, and information which had been gleaned. This covered contact with the Church of Scotland (who own the Church), information about the Scottish Land Fund (which was now open to urban communities such as Portobello) and the Community Right to Buy. He suggested 5 issues which need to be addressed:

  • Does the community have the capacity?
  • Do we have the time, energy to put in the effort?
  • Can we identify and demonstrate community need and community support?
  • Will the Church sell to the community?
  • How would we pay for it?
  • How do we run it?

4. Questions & Answers in response to presentations

The Chair then opened the meeting to those present, and a number of questions were asked about the timing of the Community Right to Buy in relation to the church going on to the market, whether it would be easier to use an existing, constituted organisation, and whether the graveyard site would be a problem. There was a suggestion to access support via the Princes Trust, the challenge of ongoing maintenance, and whether the Community Right to Buy was linked to the Scottish Land Fund.

5. Open Space session

Eva Schonveld then introduced an open space session which involved those present moving between different points within the hall to comment and make suggestions in relation to the following 5 questions: commenting

  • Who are the actual and potential users?
  • What might we use the buildings for?
  • What physical changes to the buildings?
  • How do we make this financially viable?
  • Local engagement around this process?

The 5 facilitators / recorders fed back on the key themes to emerge from the open space session, and it was agreed to make a written record of all the points recorded.

6. Final Actions, Endorsements, Next Steps

Alastair Cameron then asked the meeting to vote on the establishment of a community organisation to pursue the community buy-out proposal and endorse a draft constitution which had been circulated. This motion was passed unanimously by the 47 people who were still in attendance.

It was suggested that the name of the organisation be Friends of Bellfield and this was also approved unanimously.

AC then asked for nominations to the Committee of Friends of Bellfield. It was explained that Ian Cooke, Justin Kenrick, Alastair Cameron, Eva Schonveld, and Tim Warren had carried out the work to date, and all 5 agreed to serve on the committee. The following people were also nominated and agreed to serve on the committee: Dani Trudeau, Beth Cross, Shauna MacDonald, Kirsta MacDonald-Scott, Raymond Albeson, Thea McMillan and Morag Donaldson.

Chris Booth offered to create a website, and Jennifer Elliot offered to set up a Facebook page. Dani Trudeau will create a Google form to log interest and Thea McMillan will try to find out what children and young people think and want. The meeting also welcomed Shauna MacDonald’s suggestion to have a drama performance on 26 June, focused on the life of John Muir.

The meeting concluded by agreeing the following immediate steps:

  • To write to General Trustees of Church of Scotland with update.
  • To open a bank account
  • To convene a committee meeting as soon as possible
  • To distribute information and widen out discussion
  • To draft and submit a SLF application for development costs

The chair thanked everyone for attending and participating, and closed the meeting.

Background to proposed Portobello Community Buy out of Bellfield Old Parish Church

Justin Kenrick
Justin Kenrick

A discussion paper by Justin Kenrick

There has been a long standing and strong community interest in Portobello in saving this resource for the community. Dialogue started in 2013 between the Church (at a range of levels) and PEDAL. It continued with two Big Things On the Beach public meetings in Bellfield and the Skylark, and now involves the Community Council and many more.

The initial conversations focused on exploring the previous Bellfield Minister’s vision of Bellfield becoming a centre for community transition and resilience, what the former Minister (who sadly died in January 2016) saw as a centre of Green Pilgrimage, just off the John Muir way which runs from Dunbar to Helensburgh along the Prom.

Our restraint in publicly constituting a community response to the possible sale, has been out of respect for the difficult process the congregation was undergoing as the three congregations merged (St James’s, the Old Parish at Bellfield, and St Phillips which is now Portobello and Joppa Parish Church). It is only now that they have merged and decided to sell Bellfield that we feel able to act without stepping on the congregation’s toes.

What we are proposing is to formalise Bellfield Action Group as an independent community group seeking to secure Bellfield for the community. Given the urgency of an imminent sale, an informal grouping is exploring how to secure funding from the Land Fund to help the purchase, and Big Lottery funding to help consult the community. This expanding informal grouping of local people so far includes Justin Kenrick (PEDAL), Ian Cooke (Development Trust Scotland), Alastair Cameron (Churches Housing Action), and also Tim Warren (PJPC congregation), Thea McMillan (architect), Eva Schonveld (PEDAL), and Dani Trudeau (Tribe).

Possible key use: Sustaining Community, Celebrating Life Transitions

Whatever plans are put in place for the buildings will depend entirely on the outcomes of community consultations, but it may be helpful to ensure that we:

  • – Upgrade the halls and café and keep them available as at present, and
  • – Make the church available for people of all faiths and none to get married, hold memorials, welcome
  • new-borns and hold other life transition events.

In this way, as well as the halls fulfilling their current everyday community needs catering for children and older folk during the week, and providing space for special events (whether parties, exhibitions, book festivals, or whatever) at weekends, the church building could be used for life transitions, while also being used, rather than left empty, throughout the week.

Enabling the church to be an inclusive centre of ‘welcoming, weddings and farewells‘ (welcoming new-borns, weddings of all varieties, and farewells/ memorials/ wakes) would enable it to continue to fulfil needs that have not gone away. These are needs which, for many, now require a different kind of space that can accommodate them by enabling them to explore, and arrive at, their particular way of recognising what matters in life and death.

Using this beautiful space for people of all faiths and none to marry, celebrate and commemorate, would continue the role it has played at the heart of the community.

Possible further uses: Our Place in the world

In the process of brainstorming how to secure revenue streams, and how to ensure the buildings contributes creatively to Portobello, other ideas have included transforming the small hall into holiday or event accommodation, using the graveyard imaginatively (including for stonemasonry), and adding an inspiring indoor global community-focused exhibition along the sides of the church, and possibly using the complex for holding residential workshops, and for letting out as a Festival venue. Making the complex a revenue raising residential venue might be aided by turning the small hall into a 2-storied 9 en suite bedroom building, one which can be rented out alongside the events.

The Bellfield Minister’s vision of it as a centre of Green Pilgrimage (just off the John Muir way, which runs along the Prom), suggested the idea of including a focus on communities in the global north and south, inspired by the double edged legacy of John Muir, the visionary from Dunbar who kicked off the national park movement at Yellowstone in the States.

John Muir’s life work led to an admirable movement for the protection of nature, a movement that is still going strong, but has had questionable success, perhaps because it has also had an awful impact. This is because, despite its best intentions, its approach (whether at Yellowstone in John Muir’s day or in Kenya today) is often based on evicting the very indigenous peoples and local communities who know how to care for their lands.

So the central dynamic for a possible interactive exhibition along the insides of the Church building might be one that focuses on inspiring people with the stories of local communities sustaining their lands, and asking: How can we reconcile (and ally) the protection of the non-human environment with the needs, resilience and fulfilment of human communities?

The exhibition could draw on the experience of specific Aboriginal communities in Australia, First Nations in Canada, indigenous peoples in Africa, and places reclaiming community ownership in Scotland, hopefully including Portobello. This could focus on how they are recovering their resilience, but also on how they deal with life events (births, deaths, marriages, becoming adults, becoming elders). Exhibited around the edges of the church space (and possibly elaborated on in a changing 2D floor screen display that can also be switched off), they could inform and illuminate events, rather than get in the way of them.

And what of the outside? Perhaps a greenhouse with vines along the front of the main hall creating a walkway connecting the buildings, maybe as ‘cloisters’ where annually a pillar is carved with a natural or community event from that year? Perhaps small poems/ pictures could be carved in stone and placed on the inner wall of the grounds as markers when life transitions take place there? Perhaps a workshop out the back where the local stonemason could train youth in his extraordinary skills? Perhaps youth training in video making, sound recording, web design, and all the skills needed to constantly renew a living interactive exhibition space that brings music, news, stories, and community representatives from across the world, who can themselves contribute to vocational and educational courses?