Former Easter Ross church transformed into community facility


A FORMER church in Easter Ross has been redeveloped into a facility that offers social and economic opportunities for the community and visitors.

The Seaboard Memorial Hall (SMH) acquired the former Free Presbyterian Church situated between Hilton and Balintore in 2020. 

Now owned by the community and known as the John Ross Visitor Centre, it officially opened on Friday (13 May) with an attendance beyond expectation. It will offer social and learning opportunities for around 3,200 local residents as well as visitors to the area.

A £48,500 grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) was awarded to SMH to support the cost of the purchase and legal fees. The community group has also contributed some of its own funds for the project.  

A further donation of £54,000 for the purchase of the building was received from the Pyungkang Cheil Presbyterian Church (PCPC) in South Korea, which is very much part of the project’s ongoing support.

The area has strong Korean connections due to its links with John Ross, a missionary born in Rarichie, Easter Ross. He was the first person to translate The Bible’s New Testament into Korean in 1887 and later returned to Edinburgh in 1910 where he died five years later. The new John Ross Centre now recognises his work and life and his links to the area.

Following a visit by the PCPC in July 2019, it was decided that the building would be called the ‘John Ross Memorial Visitor Centre’ and refurbishment would be funded mainly by the PCPC.

It is expected that the lower half of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, which dates to about 800 AD and is currently situated in the Seaboard Memorial Hall, will be relocated to the John Ross Centre . The top half of the stone is located at the National Museum of Scotland. Its new home at the centre will provide more space for visitors to see the significant Pictish artefact. 

Other local historic items will be moved to the facility and will be on display for visitors and more educational activities will be delivered now that the new location provides the additional space needed. 

Paul Harrington, development manager at HIE, said:

“We were delighted to be in a position to help The Seaboard Memorial Hall finalise their funding package to enable them to purchase and refurbish the old Free Presbyterian Church.” 

“The transformation of the facility is fantastic and will now help the community increase tourism levels and provide improved activities to the Seaboard Villages. Relocating the stone there and with the history and connection of John Ross with South Korea, more visitors will be enticed to come and see and hear about the history of the area and the people.”

Maureen Ross from SMH, said:

“We are really pleased that HIE has supported us with this project, which enabled us to take it to the delivery stage and especially to Paul Harrington for his guidance and support. The John Ross Centre will be an important resource at the heart of the villages that will bring people together and attract more visitors. We thank everyone who has worked hard to bring us to this stage.”

SMH plays an important part in the community and supports ten part-time jobs.

The community group continues to manage and operate the Seaboard Centre (Seaboard Memorial Hall) and has continued to see an increase in local and visitor activity, which is encouraging for the area. 

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