Crowdfunding stores up donations for island trust

Two of the trustees from Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Trust, Dr David Binnie and Carol MacNeill.

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Islanders on Colonsay are crowdfunding to make a future for their past.

A sum of £9,000 is needed to re-roof the vestry of the old Baptist Church at Kilchattan so it can be used to keep safe some of Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust’s most prized possessions.

So far just under £400 has been raised for the specialist store and library area to go in the re-roofed vestry.

Among the delicate treasures that need to be kept in controlled lighting and atmosphere are two tapestries, made by people who lived at Port Mor from the last century or possibly earlier, and also a blanket woven out of flax that grew round a loch where baptisms took place.

Recently the trust was lucky enough to find a first edition of a go-to reference book all about Colonsay written in the 1930s and  were able to buy it for ‘a knockdown price’ – the old school register, also going back to that time, is in its hands too, as well as other precious books and documents.

The heritage centre, still with the church’s original panelling, floor and windows,  is open to visitors and the plan is for people to be able to access the most treasured pieces and documents stored in the new space on request once it is ready.

A giant bellows from the estate’s blacksmith workshop, shattered pieces of blue china from a shipwreck, the island’s telephone exchange, and quern stones from bygone grinding days are just some of the exhibits on show around the centre’s walls, plus information panels telling the island’s past.

Hopes are to start work soon on replacing the slate roof and an existing window light of the vestry, although the plan is to re-use as much of the original slate as possible to preserve the building’s character.

The Baptist Church was originally built by residents of Colonsay in 1879 for £300 and was looked after by the  congregation until 2016 when, struggling to maintain it, they passed ownership of it on to the trust with the understanding  it would remain available for occasional use as a church.

The trust, formed back in 1944,  hopped about the island, residing in the old waiting room at the pier and also the island’s generator shed before being given the Baptist Church to make its home.

No longer having to build itself a new hub as a base, the trust has thrown itself into activities, producing leaflets spanning the island’s geology to sacred ground at Oransay Priory and working on projects with universities, archaeologists and experts, including from Kilmartin Museum.

Last year a burial cist was uncovered at Kiloran in an excavation that could possibly be from the Iron Age – and there could be more of them.

The trust also restored the original oil-lit Stevenson Scalascaig minor light from 1903 after it was rescued by the pier master, putting it on show once again.

The heritage centre is very much a living part of island life, getting involved in Colonsay’s popular spring festival and being a venue for talks and folk music sessions.

Trustee Carol MacNeill said: ‘We’re very much a living part of the island.’

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