COMMUNITIES that value their local church buildings should help pay for their upkeep as a way to safeguard the future of some crumbling landmarks, the Kirk has heard.

The chairman of the Church of Scotland's General Trustees said widespread investment is needed to save the much-loved landmarks and historic ruins that pepper the countryside and punctuate towns and cities.

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The trustees are in talks with Historic Environment Scotland and local authorities over new ways to pay for the assets, the Church’s annual gathering in Edinburgh heard.

Iain Douglas, general trustees' chairman, said communities could help by paying more for the building's maintenance and getting more of a share of their use in return.

The call came against the backdrop of concerns that congregations are having to pay thousands of pounds a year to maintain popular buildings or make safe ruins.

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A minister in charge of one of the country’s abbeys called for national intervention to help fund the upkeep and to allow future expansion.

It is hoped Paisley Abbey will have a new multi-million pound visitor cloister which will create community-friendly frontage under new plans to welcome more through the door.

But Reverend Alan Birss, of the abbey, said just keeping the ancient building watertight was a challenge.

He said: “Both the state and also the church nationally in some way recognise that the local congregation is really the custodian of these nationally important buildings.

"Yet all the costs of maintaining them and having them open to the public every day and insuring them, it is a real burden.

“We say it is about £800 a day, insurance itself is £30,000 and that is a lot of money.”

He said there was also scope for accepting help in kind.

He said: “There might even be expertise or practical help, like tradesmen, but the discussions have not reached that level yet.

“The abbey’s proposals for the west side of the cloister were drawn up not only to provide increased revenue but also vastly to improve access and facilities for visitors and the local community.

“It is all part of the vision to see the abbey develop and grow, improving and expanding its ministry to visitors and to the local community."

“We remain committed to being ‘Paisley’s Abbey’ and seek to work together with the church regionally and nationally, as well as the local authority and national government agencies, to maintain and develop that role.”

He added: “A Medieval Fayre in and around the abbey is being held on Saturday May 28 as part of a year-long celebration of the birth of the first Stewart king, Robert II, in Paisley Abbey in 1316.”

The issue was discussed on the final day of the General Assembly, which had as this year's theme People of the Way.

Artist-in-residence Iain Campbell, who is normally based at St George's Tron Church of Scotland, painted some of the delegates over the week-long forum.

Mr Douglas told the General Assembly yesterday: “You will perhaps agree that it is challenge enough to maintain your church, your halls and your manse – but some congregations find themselves also responsible for a historic ruin.

“The General Trustees are exploring how congregations might be relieved of this responsibility but this is a complex issue involving Historic Environment Scotland, local authorities and our insurers and it will take time to resolve.”

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He said that community use of buildings should be considered before they are sold. There are about 280 unused buildings.

He added: “Congregations are sometimes burdened with very high costs to maintain buildings which do not serve them well.

“It will not be possible to retain all our churches and it is important to face up to the need for change.”