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Games magnate buys historic church

A COMPUTER games magnate has bought a landmark church to turn it into community hub.

Lesley Benzies, the Edinburgh based head of Rockstar North, acclaimed for games series such as Grand Theft Auto, is said to be in the closing stages of the "philanthropic purchase" of St Stephen's Church in Stockbridge in the city in a deal thought to be worth more than £500,000.

Philip Johnston, a spokesman for the Rockstar North chief, said Mr Benzies had lived in Stockbridge for more than a decade and recognised the building's importance to the community.

He said: "Stockbridge is a busy residential area with a relatively small number of community venues.

"The preservation of St Stephen's church as a community centre meets a pressing need as well as protecting an important historical building.

"We are delighted we can help bring the church back to its former glory securing its future while providing a local and performing arts centre that will benefit the wider community."

Rettie, the agency which marketed the building for the Church of Scotland, said the imposing church designed by "Athens of the North" architect William Henry Playfair is thought of as one of Edinburgh's most important Georgian buildings.

It was reconstructed in 1956 to form a church with seating for 450 people, a hall with stage, cafe, kitchen and offices in the basement.

The 162 ft high tower houses the clock and longest clock pendulum in Europe.

Campaign group the St Stephen's Playfair Trust said earlier they hope to work with the new owner in shaping the future of the Category A Listed building.

Rettie said in addition to religious uses the property could be used without the need for planning permission for change of use as a crèche, day nursery, day centre, museum or educational establishment.

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