work is due to start next month on a Berwickshire development project which experts believe is a first for the UK.
Houndwood Church, near Grantshouse, has been redundant since its final sermon in 2003. But from next month Edinburgh-based Carlton Group will oversee conversion work to transform part of the 175-year-old building into a crematorium.
The restoration, which is due to be completed by mid April next year, will also see the main body of the listed Georgian building restored to include pews in the nave, a pulpit and lectern. This will allow for religious services to return once more to Houndwood as the Church of Scotland has accepted an invitation from the Carlton Group to return to Houndwood Church for requested services.
Industry experts believe Houndwood will become the first building to be used for both cremations and burial services.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, said: “I am not aware of any church building that has been converted into a crematorium. I believe Houndwood is unique.”
Local minister Reverend Norman Ross Whyte, who currently leads church services in Grantshouse village hall every other Sunday, says the forthcoming developments will once again give people the choice if they would like to use Houndwood Church for a religious service. “I think some people would like to use the church for funerals and we will wait and see if there are any requests for weddings or Christenings,” he said.
Houndwood Church was built in the mid 1830s to accommodate the Grantshouse and Reston communities. The first service, at what was initially called Renton Chapel, took place in 1836. Houndwood became a parish within its own right just 15 years later. Considerable alterations were made to the building at the start of the twentieth century, coinciding with the opening of the church’s own graveyard.
Financial pressures forced the church’s closure in 2003. In 2007 Scottish Borders Council rejected a controversial planning application from development company West Park Properties to convert the church into flats.
But a revised application from the same company to convert the church into a crematorium was approved in 2009, and the Carlton Group bought Houndwood Church from West Park Properties earlier this year.
Project director Mark Lamb from the Carlton Group said interior furnishings had recently been sourced from a church in Wales. “We want to return Houndwood Church to its former glory,” he insisted. “We now have everything held in storage in Edinburgh.
“Several residents who worshipped at Houndwood have safeguarded many items from the church and we would like to thank them for offering to return them when the building can once again accommodate worship.”
As well as considerable restoration work to the main preacher-box design building, the Carlton Group has acquired neighbouring land to create a memorial garden.
Talks are underway with a local company to landscape the area, sympathetically plant indigenous rowan and birch trees, and place occasional benches around the garden. Plans have also been drawn up to create new parking bays outside the church, and also introduce new safety measures on the access road.
Although planning permission has been granted to establish a crematorium at Melrose, families wishing to cremate loved ones at present have to travel to either Edinburgh or Newcastle.
With almost 70 per cent of the UK population now choosing cremation over burial, forecast figures suggest Houndwood could host two cremations each working day from Berwickshire, East Lothian and Northumberland.
Mr Lamb added: “Cremations remain the preferred options for many and it is only right that the people of Berwickshire and surrounding areas have their own crematorium.”