Restoration Man George Clarke visits house of God

A NORTH East academic has transformed a ruined 200-year-old church into a creative studio for artists, students, actors and musicians.

The former church on the remote island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides
The former church on the remote island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides

A NORTH East academic has transformed a ruined 200-year-old church into a creative studio for artists, students, actors and musicians.

Keith McIntyre, head of art at Northumbria University, has restored a Grade B listed Parliamentary Church, on the remote island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, which was built in 1829 and fell out of use in the 1920s.

His ambitious project to re-build the roofless stone shell of the church into a new multi-disciplinary arts studio with living accommodation was screened on Channel 4’s The Restoration Man this week.

Presented by Sunderland-born architect George Clarke, the programme showcased the rescue of neglected architectural treasures across Britain.

The restored building is one of Sir Thomas Telford’s Parliamentary Churches – a term referring to an 1823 Government commission which led to the erection of more than 30 churches in some of the most thinly populated and scattered parishes in the Highlands and Hebrides Islands.

Keith and his wife, Sheenagh, used an inheritance from his late father to buy the listed church and worked in collaboration with Edinburgh architect Derek Patience to plan its renovation.

Keith said: “I first saw the church five years ago and the hairs went up on the back of my neck when I walked up to this extraordinary building with fantastic views.

“I was staggered that no one had done anything with it, so I started a long process of negotiating the purchase with the absentee owner.

“The actual building works only started on site in September 2011 and the project was finished in just over 12 months.”

He added: “It was a real challenge, given the location and the unforgiving Atlantic weather, but the result is well worth the effort and the extreme weather is all part of the excitement of being here.”

Now completed, the studio will be open to Northumbria University art students, artists and musicians to be inspired by the rugged, desolate landscape of the island.

“My own practice and research crosses several arts subject disciplines,” said Keith.

“My aim was to create a space that was suitable as a production studio for drawing and painting but could also be used by small ensemble companies of theatre performers.

“Lauren MacColl, a previous winner of BBC Folk Musician of the Year, will be rehearsing and recording her new album in the studio with her band in the next few months. I also want to explore the use of the building as a resource for students and colleagues; a kind of creative studio for short residencies and projects.”

The Restoration Man episode featuring the project can be viewed online – log on to www.channel4.com for more details.

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