The day the Bishop brought the house down but not the church!


After the dust settles

 It seems that the whole world now knows exactly where St Martin’s Episcopal Church, Dundee is. As the Butterburn and Bucklemaker Court multis were blown down last Sunday morning and the dust cloud lifted, there remained the church, miraculously intact, despite a pile of debris clipping the corner of the church hall.

That afternoon hundreds came to see St Martins. “Is your church alright?” asked a lad on a bike. A lady took a photo of me outside the intact church for her housebound aunty. Another onlooker shared his memories of visiting his sister in her brand new top-floor flat in the multi with stunning views for miles around.  

The event clearly stirred a range of emotions: anxiety and excitement, relief, sadness and hopefulness. Personally, at the top of the Law alongside the media crews, I found the blow-down itself utterly awesome. The video clip of my facial expression at the very moment the explosives detonated is totally embarrassing.

Back down in Derby Street beside St Martin’s amidst the dust and rubble we realised that our prayers were answered – nobody injured, no properties destroyed, cleaning up and minor repairs already started. God’s house was still standing confidently as a sign of enduring values for a community in transition.

William Sinclair, managing director of the contractors Safedem, is a person who clearly takes great pride in his work. The skill to safely bring down 22 storey buildings on tight footprints in such a built-up area is impressive. People in the surrounding homes, shops and businesses have appreciated the care and consideration all his staff have shown throughout this challenging period.

So what now? It’s sometimes easier to pull down than to rebuild. The amazing concrete-eating machine which, like a mechanical dinosaur, has been munching Tayside House for weeks was temporarily borrowed to get things moving. We have the prospect of many weeks of rubble grinding and removal – recycled into hard core for regeneration projects in the city’s waterfront and elsewhere. 

We must hope that the council planners and community groups work hard, together with potential developers, to make creative proposals for new housing and amenities on the site. The continuing economic uncertainties do not help but the Hilltown deserves the best without avoidable delay. Opened in 1971 St Martin’s wishes to remain at the heart of this local community. Although the church has outlived the neighbouring multi-storey flats, we recognise the need to refresh our building and rethink how it might be used.

We have of course been here before. The original St Martin’s Church built in 1901 was demolished to make way for the exciting multi-storey development by architects James Parr and Partners. They also designed the replacement St Martin’s in the modernist concrete style fashionable at that time. Each generation may believe it knows best but actually nothing remains the same for ever.

Sky News video coverage can be seen here

This article appeared in Dundee Courier on Friday, 5 July 2013.

Categories: BishopClergyDundee, St Martin's